Punishing the families of young, undocumented immigrants would be a massive breach of trust. And yet, that's precisely what some in Congress are clamoring to do.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, this week dropped that bomb during opening statements of a hearing on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a protection for young immigrants recently scuttled by President Donald Trump.
Grassley's address started off well enough. A DACA deal -- which Congress has six months to craft -- wouldn't require funding for Trump's "big, beautiful" border wall. It would, however, include cash for bolstered border security, he said. No surprises so far. The GOP's conservative wing will want something if it's going to legislatively protect young immigrants, brought to the U.S through no fault of their own, from deportation.
Then Grassley dropped a bomb.
"Finally, we need to take a hard look at our asylum and immigration court backlogs, and take steps to ensure speedy deportation for those who deserve it, while preserving lawful claims for those truly in need," he said, echoing the sentiments of some Republican colleagues.
In short, some Senate Republicans are demanding a ramp-up in deportations of those not covered by any DACA fix. And it's here that the U.S. government risks forever proving itself untrustworthy to millions.
There can be no doubt that many relatives of the roughly 800,000 recipients of DACA have overstayed work visas or entered the U.S. illegally. By its very process, DACA asked for personal information. They were registered into a database. In return, DACA recipients could leave the shadows and access driver's licenses, work permits and college. It would be an utterly shameful act if that information was weaponized against them and tapped to deport DACA recipients themselves and their loved ones. The lives of more than 45,000 families in Iowa and Illinois are in play here.
These are people, not statistics.
Mass roundups would prove, for an entire generation, that the U.S. simply can't be trusted.
That distrust would trickle down to all governments. It would destroy important relationships between police and immigrant communities. It would incentivize a black-market lifestyle that fuels exploitation, crime, poverty and suffering.
There's another way, though.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, this week offered legislation that looks to split the baby. It would grant protections for young immigrants who've spent 10 consecutive years in the U.S. Like DACA, it would allow them to fully function within society, which includes bolstering the tax base. It would include $1.6 billion for border security, giving conservatives a victory, too.
It wouldn't, however, authorize or fund mass deportations.
The motivations of some lawmakers who support such roundups are doubtlessly motivated by race. In others, such as Grassley, there are legitimate concerns about adherence to the law. But those in the latter, more-justifiable camp must recognize that even the most carefully crafted law cannot fully respond to the complexities of reality.
In this case, strict adherence to existing code would cause unacceptable damage to millions and winnow trust in governance itself for generations.
The comments of Grassley and others poses a legitimate threat to any deal on DACA. These demands are fundamentally different from a hand-shake agreement Democrats made recently with the White House.
Few things would sink this effort faster than a bait and switch, especially one that would bring so much harm.