President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after a six-month delay is a transparent attempt to pass the buck. Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested that in announcing the policy shift when he argued that the Obama administration executive order creating DACA was an unconstitutional overreach of presidential power but that the Trump administration would be happy to dutifully enforce any new law governing the 800,000 affected people if Congress enacts one.
Trump was reportedly pressured from both sides on this issue. He has spoken sympathetically in the past about the young people known as Dreamers and clearly must realize that mass deportations of people who were brought to the United States as children is lousy politics. But he is also facing pressure from the conservative base, including from a group of state attorneys general, including Oregon's, that is threatening to sue if he continues the program.
“President Trump’s move to go back on our promise to DREAMers is not only heartless, it’s shortsighted," according to a press release from U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley. "Since DACA was implemented five years ago, 11,000 Oregonian DREAMers have strengthened our local economies and the fabric of our communities. These are young Americans who came here through no fault of their own as children, and know no other home. DREAMers are productive and contributing members of our society, and ending this program would be not only a heartless betrayal, but also a devastating $460 billion blow to America’s economy.
“America is a nation that keeps its word – but President Trump fundamentally betrayed that promise today. This is not ‘law and order’; this is tearing families apart and shaking the foundations of our local economies.
“We cannot turn our back on nearly 800,000 courageous young leaders. These are our friends and our neighbors. I won’t stand idly by as President Trump tries to recklessly and heartlessly remove them from this great nation. I’m going to fight vehemently to ensure that they can keep contributing to the nation that they love.”
But make no mistake, the upshot is to throw the lives of these young people into turmoil. The administration intends to stop accepting new DACA applications immediately. Those whose status for the program was set to expire during the next six months will reportedly be allowed to renew for another two-year period, but the vast majority will start seeing their protected status expire as soon as March. Given the aggressiveness of Trump administration immigration enforcement officials, DACA participants, who provided the government with extensive information about who they are and when they arrived in the country, will have good reason to fear that they have set themselves up for swift separation from their families and deportation to countries they may barely remember.
The notion that this president can cajole Congress into filling the leadership void he left on this issue is laughable. He couldn’t get a Republican House and Senate to agree on a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the party’s chief, unifying rallying cry for seven years. Why should we expect he would do better on immigration, an issue that deeply divides the GOP?
House Speaker Paul Ryan greeted the administration’s announcement with a statement expressing hope “that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.” But all indications suggest that it will be impossible to convince the Republican caucus in either chamber to protect the Dreamers without exacting a price, whether that’s funding for Trump’s border wall or a strict reduction in legal immigration, as some GOP senators have already proposed.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned on Twitter last month that “Dreamers are not a bargaining chip for the border wall and inhumane deportation force. Period.” But Dreamers shouldn’t necessarily feel certain that Democrats won’t see them as a potentially potent campaign issue as much as they consider their fate a humanitarian imperative. The March expiration of DACA comes right in the middle of the primary season before the midterm elections, and in as much as Democrats win with their base by fighting for the Dreamers, they may win bigger if they can blame Republicans for failing (or refusing) to protect them.
Trump could have avoided this political morass by doing what President Barack Obama did five years ago in erring on the side of protecting a class of people who did nothing wrong and recognizing that their potential contributions to our society are just as great as those of young people who were born here.