Kyle Grillot / Reuters

As Congress debates immigration policy, one matter of particular concern and controversy is the fate of young people who were brought to the United States as children, avoided criminal records, and earned a high school diploma or joined the military.

In 2012, President Obama sought to protect people like that from deportation, correctly reasoning that they give more to the country than they take, and that exiling them would be cruel. But the Trump Administration insists Obama’s actions exceeded presidential authority, and intends to eliminate all protections unless Congress acts. He canceled the Obama-era program shielding them in September.

On Thursday, when the White House released its preferred immigration-reform legislation, one of the many proposals put forth concerned the fate of those young people.

In exchange for other concessions from Democrats, like a border wall, new limits on chain migration, and aggressive deportations, it suggests a path to citizenship “not only for the 690,000 people who had signed up for protection under an Obama-era program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA,” The New York Times reports, “but also for another 1.1 million undocumented immigrants who would have qualified for the program but never applied.”

Apart from the question of whether the overall legislation is worth supporting, or whether there ought to be an even broader amnesty for those here without permission, encompassing that larger group of “Dreamers” strikes me as the logical course.

Whether a person signed up for protection under President Obama or qualified to do so but failed to fill out the paperwork has no bearing on their suitability for citizenship, their contributions, or their lack of moral culpability for crossing the border. And the inclusive standard minimizes misery and people living outside the law.

But Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a restrictionist think tank, advances a contrary moral analysis of the proposal at National Review.

He believes that it is “morally dubious.”

The reason young people who signed up for the program “have a compelling case for amnesty before all enforcement measures are in place and legal immigration curbed is that not only did they arrive here as minors but they voluntarily came forward and provided their information to the government,” he argues. “Those who chose not to do so should not be granted the same extraordinary act of mercy.”

In turn, his analysis strikes me as morally dubious: That is, I believe that it is cruel to deport young people who were brought here as children through no fault of their own, followed the law, and got educated, as doing so would needlessly consign them to an unfamiliar country while harming the American citizens who count them as family members, friends, lovers, colleagues, and employers or employees.

What’s more, it is noteworthy and striking to see Krikorian’s analysis published in a conservative magazine, as his moral logic elevates whether or not these young people heard about and signed up for a government program dreamed up by Barack Obama over more morally salient factors like the circumstances under which they came to be in the U.S. illegally and the choices that they’ve made ever since.

Javert would approve, but the inheritors of the Declaration shouldn’t.

And in what other circumstance would a National Review writer insist that a decision to trust and enroll in what conservatives regard as a straightforwardly unlawful big-government program is the most important factor in whether one should be an American? A more principled conservative approach would hold that how one arrived, the civic life one has led, and whether one is more likely than not to contribute to the United States are more salient moral factors by orders of magnitude. It’s time to leave these blameless young people alone to pursue happiness.  

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