President Donald Trump on Tuesday made it official: His administration plans to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Obama administration program that has offered protection for 800,000 or so young immigrants who have been raised in the United States but lack legal status.
We'll take Trump at his word that this decision was difficult for him: He repeatedly has said how much he loves the "dreamers" who were brought to the United States, often as very young children and without any say in the matter.
Trump pointedly kicked the question of what to do with DACA over to Congress, and gave it six months to try to find a legislative solution. If Congress fails to do so, Trump tweeted Tuesday night, he might revisit the issue. (The president clarified his tweet on Wednesday by saying that he didn't think he would have to revisit the issue because he thought Congress would be able to strike a deal on DACA.)
Well, Trump must be watching a different Congress than the rest of us: It seems like a long shot that Congress will be able to pass DACA legislation in the next six months.
But that doesn't mean it shouldn't try. And Trump should use as much political clout as he can to try to push Congress forward on the issue.
You can see why Trump felt hemmed in on DACA. He won election in large part because he took a hard-line stance on immigration, and it wouldn't have gone over well with his base supporters if he had wavered on DACA. In addition, he was facing an artificial deadline imposed by Republican attorneys general who said they would sue if Trump didn't step forward to end the program. And with Neil Gorsuch the new ninth justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, the attorneys general had a decent chance of prevailing. (Of course, it's all going to the courts anyway: A group of Democratic attorneys general sued Wednesday to block the administration's action.)
But there's a good reason why Congress should work toward a deal on DACA: Legislative action would take the program out of the realm of executive orders, where it can be reversed with every new occupant of the Oval Office. Remember that Obama instituted the program through an executive order only after efforts to push it through Congress fell short.
It's not impossible to imagine the outlines of a bipartisan DACA agreement taking shape: The program enjoys wide support from Democrats and from some Republicans as well. With Trump pushing matters along, a DACA deal isn't out of the question — and this is a president who just this week struck a deal with Democratic lawmakers to keep the federal government open.
There will be some pushback from some lawmakers who argue that any DACA deal should be part of a broader package of immigration reforms. And, yes, it probably should be. But considering Congress' inability to do that over the last few decades, we're not holding our breath. And it could be that a modest deal on DACA helps show the way to some of those wider (and long-overdue) reforms.
As we have noted in the past, Trump could be in a unique position to help push these reforms forward. We need to revamp our system for dealing with guest workers so it connects better with the employers who need those workers. Legal immigrants need to have clearly designated and relatively straightforward paths to citizenship. We must craft humane and rational policies to deal with refugees. And, yes, we need more effective border enforcement, and no, that doesn't include a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
By contrast with those goals, a legislative deal on DACA would be a small step forward. But long and difficult journeys always begin with first steps. (mm)