Selective Impression

It’s unusually interesting that in the case of this DACA phased repeal, people remember the piece of information “6 months” over everything else. Everyone I talked to (even some DACA dreamers who seem relatively well informed) since I returned to LA recall the DACA announcement as “DACA will be cancelled in 6 months” – which is a few shades harsher than what it really is. While it’s simpler than most policy, the DACA phased repeal has a few components, and it’s not possible to convey them all in a mouthful. 1) no new applications, 2) one more renewal allowed if your expiration is between now and March 2018 (6 months) – but it needs to be filed within one month. What you are seeing, given this, is a phased 2-year repeal period where the earliest EAD expirations come in in April 2018 and the latest ones happen in March 2020.*

  • This assumes that people will get 2 years added to their original EAD expiration date. Some seem to have received 2 years added to their date of application and not expiration – we will need further confirmation to consider this official practice. Also, I am not going into the specifics of which day in March is the last date and which date in October is the last renewal application date, which are important details for those involved, but not relevant to the point I’m trying to make.

Of all these pieces of information, an overwhelming number of people are remembering this as “full repeal with 6 month buffer” or “all canceled in 6 months”.

If it had to be a time-related number that would have been easier to remember, there’s a couple other numbers competing for the spot as well. There’s the “one month” piece – and you could argue that there’s the implicit “two years” which is the repeals period. Why did these two not make it to the public memory?

First, there’s the first impression factor. After a full week of click-baity media articles citing anonymous White House sources on the DACA decision, Politico broke ground in its September 2nd (I think?) article by putting one specific piece of information out: there would be a 6-month buffer of some sort in the DACA repeal. To me this indicated a first signal indicating that the impending DACA decision would be one of cancellation, because we finally had a piece of detail. It is possible that for the media and the public, seeing this piece of detail later confirmed in the official announcement solidified its position in the public memory.

The DACA phased repeal should really be simplified as a “2.5-year phased repeal”, and not a “repeal after 6 months”. But that would not look good to the administration. 2.5 years – that means that between the Iowa caucuses and Super Tuesday there would be a significant portion of dreamers still holding valid EADs, and another potion who very recently would have expired their EADs. The 2016 presidential elections took place just a few months ago. Other than pundits, who is looking at the 2020 presidential race as an imminent event? To most it will feel like a long, long time ahead. That’s when the last batch of dreamers lose their EADs. This is a very long phaseout. It’s akin to the Obama administration saying “well folks we will start discussing health care soon, but we don’t expect the final vote to take place until the 2012 Primaries season”.

Given how useless Session’s announcement speech in terms of information density, I wonder if a possibly deliberate surfacing the factoid “6 months” most prominently in the public space follows a pattern. A pattern of being (relatively) soft in action and harsh in words. Session spent 20 seconds conveying information in the decision per se (“rescinded” and “phased out”), and the remaining 10 minutes catering to the anti-immigrant far right. It created a spectacle conveying the idea that Trump was on board with the anti-immigrant agenda.

Something similar could be said of emphasizing the 6 months aspect of the announcement over others. The 6 months detail is actually a second level of detail, it’s not even a piece of information that matters to the general public – it’s used to determine whether a person can renew their DACA for the last time. Here, the first level of detail is that only one last round of renewals will be allowed in DACA, not 6 months. But the administration decided to pick it, possibly because it sounds much better than 2.5 years.

Why does the administration care how harsh or soft they are on immigration? Do they display this behavior in any other topic – global warming, taxes, financial regulations, LGBT? It’s a bit of a mystery.