September 3, 2017 - 11:59 pm
WASHINGTON — No issue has torn President Donald J. Trump as much as DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order signed by his predecessor in June 2012 to provide temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
As a candidate, Trump promised his supporters that if elected, he would eliminate DACA on “day one.” But after he came into office, the new president could not pull the trigger.
“But the DACA situation is a very, very — it’s a very difficult thing for me,” Trump confessed to reporters in February. “Because, you know, I love these kids. I love kids. I have kids and grandkids. And I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do.”
Trump promised to “deal with DACA with heart.” How he’ll do that should become clear Tuesday, the day the White House has said it will issue a decision on DACA’s future.
While some news organizations reported Sunday night that Trump would end the program, the stories were based on unnamed sources.
Although candidate Trump pushed for tough enforcement of federal immigration law, President Trump clearly was moved by the same sentiments that prompted Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to argue against rescinding a program that has allowed some 750,000 undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally and apply for work permits.
“Like the president, I’ve long advocated for tougher enforcement of our existing immigration laws,” Hatch said in a statement. “But we also need a workable, permanent solution for individuals who entered our country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here.”
In a July 27 letter to Trump, 43 Democratic senators, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, urged the president to support the program.
“These young people are known as Dreamers,” they wrote. “They came to the United States as children and are American in every way except for their immigration status. We have already invested in them by educating them in American schools. It makes no sense to squander their talents by deporting them to countries they barely remember.”
Challenge by attorneys general
The calendar and a group of pro-enforcement state attorneys general apparently have prodded Trump to make up his mind rather than allow the program to continue indefinitely.
In 2014, the AGs sued to stop the expansion of DACA and another Obama-administration mandate — DAPA, or Deferred Action for American Parents, which provided legal status for 5 million undocumented immigrants who are related to DACA recipients. The AGs prevailed in federal courts and a 4-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld their complaint.
In June, the leader of the anti-DAPA AGs, Ken Paxton of Texas, wrote a letter that informed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the group would sue to end DACA if the administration did not rescind the executive order by Sept. 5.
“This September 5 deadline is a political deadline, not a legal deadline,” protested Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, in a statement. “It was completely manufactured by Texas Attorney General Paxton and other extremists within the White House and the Department of Justice, simply to box President Trump into a corner.”
With Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court, Paxton and company are more likely to prevail in court.
Even though he later signed an executive order, former President Barack Obama understood that unilateral action was highly vulnerable to a legal challenge.
In 2010 he was asked why he had not passed legislation to legalize undocumented immigrants. Obama responded, “I am president. I am not king. I can’t do these things just by myself. We have a system of government that requires the Congress to work with the executive branch to make it happen.”
DREAM Act fails to pass
In December 2010, Congressional Democrats tried to pass the so-called DREAM Act, short for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. But the measure garnered only 55 votes — five short of the 60 votes needed to bring it to a floor vote.
As one door closed, another opened. Obama authorized the program unilaterally in 2012 – a method that by its very nature left the door open for a successor to end the program unilaterally.
If Trump rescinds DACA, those immigrants who applied for temporary legal status likely would feel more vulnerable because they registered with the federal government, say advocates. These organizations have been joined by big business and high-tech leaders.
Mark Krikorian of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies noted that “DREAMers include genuinely sympathetic cases of people who came as infants and toddlers.” But, he added, “the DREAM Act itself was never intended to pass on its own — it was a marketing gimmick to make the case for amnestying all 12 million illegals.”
Since Trump first failed to rescind DACA, the smart money has been on Trump reaching across the aisle and passing a measure that protects the immigrants but also bolsters enforcement, perhaps by funding a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan told a Wisconsin radio station he did not think Trump should rescind DACA, as “this is something that Congress has to fix.” A heartened House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi invited Ryan to meet with Democrats to discuss the issue.
But when McClatchy News reported last week that the Trump White House was considering a compromise bill that included protections for those immigrants and more law enforcement, Pelosi was incensed. As if to bolster Krikorian’s point, she tweeted, “It is reprehensible to treat children as bargaining chips. America’s DREAMers are not negotiable.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.
You may be DACA eligible if you:
— Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
— Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
— Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007;
— Were physically in the U.S. on June 15, 2012.