How nativist groups are taking down DACA

Conservative and mainstream media have facilitated nativist groups’ influence in the immigration debate

The “nativist lobby,” which consists of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and NumbersUSA, has consistently opposed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows undocumented immigrants to live, work, and go to school in the United States without fear of deportation and it has used both right-wing and mainstream media outlets to rally support for its message. The Trump administration’s lack of support for the program and a threat by 10 Republican states’ officials to sue the federal government if it doesn’t rescind DACA by September has now aligned with the nativists' demands, meaning protection for over 800,000 undocumented immigrants could soon come to an end. 

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

The Trump administration and Republican-controlled states indicate a near end to DACA

DHS Secretary Kelly says that DACA is not legally sustainable. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in a July 12 meeting that the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be determined by the courts, according to McClatchy’s reporting. Kelly also said that based on the conversations he has had with lawyers, he believes the program is not legally sustainable. The McClatchy article characterized Kelly’s statement as “a dramatic shift in tone for Kelly who in previous meetings has cast himself as someone who protected the program.” From the July 12 report:

President Donald Trump's top immigration official warned Hispanic members of Congress Wednesday that over a million people living in the United States under a special protected status could soon be placed in line for deportation.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that the fate of deferred action program known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — will likely be determined by the courts, perhaps as soon as September, and that attorneys he’s consulted with do not think the program is legally sustainable. Kelly also would not commit to extending temporary protected status, or TPS, for nationals from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and four other countries, but indicated that TPS for Haitians will likely end.

“I have never left a meeting so emotionally affected than from what I just heard inside,” said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who estimated that millions of people could be deported. “And I’m positive that my colleagues heard the same thing that I heard.”

Kelly spent more than an hour in an emotional Capitol Hill meeting discussing DACA, TPS and other Trump administration concerns with the Democrats. It was a dramatic shift in tone for Kelly who in previous meetings has cast himself as someone who protected the program. Trump and Republican leaders have also repeatedly stated that the 800,000 immigrants currently protected by the DACA program shouldn’t be concerned. [McClatchy, 7/12/17]

Texas attorney general leads a 10-state coalition threatening to sue the federal government if it does not phase out DACA. According to Dallas News, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton along with officials from Republican-controlled states like Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia signed a letter addressed to the Department of Homeland Security requesting that it “phase[s] out the DACA program” by September 5. [Dallas News, 6/29/17]

Republicans were once in favor of keeping DACA

Trump’s shifting message on DACA “is dividing fellow Republicans.” President Donald Trump’s conflicting remarks on whether he would rescind or keep DACA have divided Republicans in Congress. Last year, PBS reported that in response to Trump’s “sympathetic tone” at the time toward DACA recipients, “Republicans who’ve supported congressional action to help immigrant youths welcomed Trump’s new tone” while other immigration hard-liners were alarmed by his apparent backpedaling. [PBS, 12/8/16]

NY Times reported that many Republicans are anxious about ending DACA. Days after Trump took office, The New York Times reported on the risks Republicans would face in rescinding DACA, as ending the program “could ensnare almost 800,000 people who are deeply enmeshed in communities, churches and campuses across the nation” and result in massive public “outcry.” From the January 30 report:

Some Republicans have contemplated those potentially searing depictions and worry they could provoke an outcry that would dwarf this weekend’s response to the new restrictions. It is a chief reason they are anxious about precipitately moving forward with any effort to undo the Obama administration’s program to grant relief to the so-called Dreamers: tens of thousands of younger unauthorized immigrants who participate in a program that allows them to remain in the United States, attend school, receive driver’s licenses and hold jobs without the threat of deportation.

The weekend tumult was over a few hundred people who were being denied entry as refugees from violence across the Middle East, as well as over some legal residents who were being barred from returning. Any Trump administration effort to overturn the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative and then deport participants could ensnare almost 800,000 people who are deeply enmeshed in communities, churches and campuses across the nation.


Still, Republican loyalty could be tested by an aggressive move against the Dreamer program. Mr. Sharry, the immigration activist, predicted an outpouring of public resistance should the administration move ahead.

“The first time a Dreamer gets put in a detention center and readied for a deportation bus, those crowds you see at the airports, you are going to see crowds at least as big surrounding the outside of detention centers,” he said. “What you are seeing at the airports this weekend will be multiplied by the hundreds and perhaps thousands.”

And for some Republicans, those images would be a nightmare. [The New York Times, 1/30/17]

But Nativist groups have been aggressively lobbying for DACA to be rescinded on their right-wing media platforms

Mark Krikorian has repeatedly used his platform at National Review to besmirch DACA and smear Dreamers. Mark Krikorian, executive director of Center for Immigration Studies, has written at least four separate articles that call DACA “illegal amnest[y]” and complain that DACA recipients, Dreamers, have gained protection because their stories garnered sympathy from the public. He has also requested the administration consider implementing punishments for immigrants whose DACA applications are denied and significantly decrease the number of immigrants who qualify for the program. [National Review, 1/23/17, 6/8/17, 4/18/16, 12/1/10]

Krikorian on Fox News: “DACA is my main concern.” On January 25, Krikorian appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight and again petitioned for the Trump administration to end DACA immediately, offering no reasons as to why that would be good policy:

On OANN, NumbersUSA’s Chris Chmielenski lobbed insults at Congress for not defunding DACA when it was first introduced. Chris Chmielenski of NumbersUSA appeared on pro-Trump media outlet One America News to criticize Congress for, according to him, “being unwilling to challenge” Obama on his 2012 or 2014 “executive amnesty.” [One America News, The Daily Ledger, 2/2/17; Media Matters, 1/19/17]

The Hill published a Dale Wilcox op-ed filled with lies about DACA. Dale Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) -- the legal arm of FAIR -- penned a January 29 op-ed in The Hill titled “Why Trump must end DACA.” The piece was riddled with lies and was subsequently circulated by at least one other anti-immigrant hate group that supports the nativist lobby’s efforts. Wilcox’s main argument was that DACA is an “amnesty-magnet.” The Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform (CAIRCO), an SPLC-designated hate group, referenced the op-ed to spread lies to local Coloradans. [The Hill, 1/29/17;, accessed 2/3/17; The Denver Post, 2/17/16]

Wilcox argued that Trump should deport Dreamers to Mexico so they can pressure the Mexican government to “respond to the needs of its people.” In a Breitbart piece, Wilcox made a pitch to Trump that the president should end “further DACA renewals, and [let] DACA-recipients gradually self-repatriate” back to Mexico so that Dreamers can “organize, agitate, and rally for domestic reforms” there, despite many having little or no connection to Mexico. From the June 15 article:

This cycle of emigration and underdevelopment can end– and President Trump has the power to do it.

No one would be better situated than your average DACA-dreamer in Mexico to force the Mexican government to finally commit to actual reforms and respond to the needs of its people. Being relatively wealthy and educated and having seen what the rule of law really looks like, thousands of the DACA-recipients who return to Mexico would organize, agitate, and rally for domestic reforms. By ending further DACA renewals, and letting DACA-recipients gradually self-repatriate, President Trump could create the democratic pressure to solve to what has long been viewed as an impossible reform problem.

However, if our President allows DACA to become permanent, the problem of illegal immigration will never end. A look at our long history of illegal-alien amnesty is instructive. [Breitbart, 6/15/17]

Breitbart promoted NumbersUSA’s Roy Beck’s anti-DACA Twitter campaign. Breitbart essentially advertised a NumbersUSA campaign, led by its Executive Director Roy Beck. The campaign was designed to rally “immigration hawks and Trump supporters … to tweet out a number of prepared statements on Twitter.” According to the article, one of the tweets read “‘2 simple rules: buy American & hire American.’ – @POTUS. Turn illegal #DACA off @realDonaldTrump.” From the January 26 Breitbart article:

Immigration hawk Roy Beck, the executive director of NumbersUSA, has started a Twitter campaign that demands Trump keep his promise where he said he would “immediately” end DACA.

Beck wrote in a statement that it was “possible” that the Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ more establishment-based faction of the Trump Administration could be at odds with Chief Strategist Steve and former Breitbart News Chairman Bannon’s populist sentiments on the issue of DACA.

“It is important that the citizens of America speak to the Administration with a clarity about this issue that thus far has been lacking from the Administration itself,” Beck wrote. “At the very least, the Administration must stand firm with Pres. Trump’s campaign insistence that only Congress — and not a President — has the constitutional power to give an amnesty.”

Immigration hawks and Trump supporters have been asked by NumbersUSA to tweet out a number of prepared statements on Twitter, one of which says “‘2 simple rules: buy American & hire American.’ – @POTUS. Turn illegal #DACA off @realDonaldTrump.”

“‘Every decision…will be made to benefit American workers.’ – @POTUS. Stop issuing work permits thru illegal #DACA @realDonaldTrump,” another prepared tweet reads. [Breitbart, 1/26/17]

Nativist groups’ arguments against the program do not stand up to scrutiny

DACA is not “amnesty.” As a post on The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog explained, “under no circumstances could Obama’s action be considered ‘amnesty’" because “immigrants in theory would still face legal risk because an executive order can be changed by Obama’s successor.” From the November 3, 2014, blog:

The Congressional Research Service, in a report, found that the White House’s authority to defer deportations is limited. The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 29 reported that the White House was considering options that could offer protections to 1 million and 4 million people in the country illegally.

At this point no one really knows the exact impact. But the odds are the number will be much less than 11 million — and under no circumstances could Obama’s action be considered “amnesty.” Immigrants in theory would still face legal risk because an executive order can be changed by Obama’s successor.


As we have noted before, “amnesty” is a loaded phrase when used in the context of illegal immigration. The dictionary definition is: “The act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.”

The Fact Checker does not take a position on the bill — or on someone's belief that any path to citizenship is, in effect, “amnesty.”

But the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which was approved in the Senate in 2013 on a vote of 68 to 32, including the support of 14 Republicans, did not contain anything as sweeping as that dictionary definition of amnesty.

If the bill had become law, undocumented aliens would have had to jump through all sorts of hoops before they could be considered for legal permanent residence, including registering with the government, having a steady job, paying a fine, paying back taxes, passing background checks, learning English  — and then getting in line behind immigrants who had entered the country legally. It would have taken at least 13 years before citizenship could be obtained.

By its very nature, a presidential executive order would be even less than that, since an executive order does not permanently change the law. [The Washington Post, 11/3/14; Media Matters, 4/17/16]

DACA is not a “magnet” for illegal immigration. In responding to lawsuits against DACA, courts have repeatedly ended up debunking the claim that DACA acts as a magnet for illegal immigration, noting that the claim is “speculation” and “lacks evidence.” Additionally, DACA only applies to immigrants who “have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time,” meaning new arrivals do not qualify for the temporary status. [Monthly Review Online, 8/25/15; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, accessed 7/17/17]

Many law experts agree that the program is constitutional. Law professors, immigration lawyers, and immigration think tanks have made statements affirming that Obama had the legal authority to defer deportations with executive orders. In one case, over 100 law professors wrote a memo explaining that “the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that decisions to initiate or terminate enforcement proceedings fall squarely within the authority of the Executive” and there are historical precedents for such actions. [Media Matters, 4/17/16]

Mainstream media have sanitized nativist opposition to DACA by citing them without pushback and failing to properly label them as nativist “hate groups”

Krikorian to HuffPost: DACA’s continuation is “inexcusable.” HuffPost gave a boost to nativist talking points when it noted in May that Trump’s reticence in ending the DACA program has angered his supporters. The article cited Krikorian who criticized the program’s continuation as “inexcusable” and FAIR’s Ira Mehlman who attacked the program, calling it “unconstitutional.” [HuffPost, 5/2/17]

The Atlantic: “Immigration hardliners … feel let down by the administration.” In a June 22 article, The Atlantic highlighted CIS’ Krikorian and two other NumbersUSA employees’ disapproval of the administration’s lack of action on DACA. The magazine described their organizations as groups that support “reduced immigration.” [The Atlantic, 6/22/17]

NumbersUSA to LA Times: “DACA needs to be ended.” The Los Angeles Times boosted NumbersUSA’s nativist claims in an article as the head of its government relations Rosemary Jenks used the newspaper’s platform to try to sell the DACA program as “unconstitutional.” The Times labeled NumbersUSA an organization that “advocates lower immigration levels.”  [Los Angeles Times, 6/16/17]

The Daily Beast: “Mark Krikorian is displeased.” The Daily Beast quoted Krikorian as saying, “There’s no excuse for allowing a single work permit to be renewed, and yet they’re doing it anyway, on the same scale and in the same way that Obama was doing it.” The website also highlighted Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) President Dan Stein’s anti-DACA position as he expressed discontent with how the current administration has handled DACA, and minimized the groups’ extreme views by labeling them as “immigration restrictionists.” At the end, the article also quoted undocumented immigrant and DACA-recipient Juan Escalante but gave him significantly less space. Escalante explained that he and other Dreamers “are dealing with enormous anxiety, checking news reports and Twitter updates every hour to see if Trump has eliminated the program that lets them keep their jobs and driver’s licenses.” [The Daily Beast, 1/23/17]