Instead of planning Labor Day barbecues, the Trump administration has been hard at work this weekend planning new ways to mismanage taxpayer money and strike fear into the hearts of undocumented immigrants. Today, President Trump decided to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (“DACA”).
Let’s just recap on where we were before 45 and his xenophobic campaign promises came to predictable fruition. In 2012, President Obama came up with a short-term plan to prioritize use of the Congressionally-appropriated deportation budget. The immigration piggy bank only contained about enough funding to deport 400,000 of the 11 million immigrants who are on U.S. soil illegally each year. So President Obama directed DHS to allow “certain young people” (who might have been deported) to apply for a two-year deportation deferment after they’d passed a background check.”
Under DACA, 1.2 million people qualified for a deferment. Not so shockingly the program worked well, so the Secretary of Homeland Security (under President Obama’s direction) added another plan called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (“DAPA”) to allow parents of those who would have been eligible under DACA to apply for deferment. A child or parent given a deferment under these programs wouldn’t become a citizen, or get a green card, or be granted any other legal status – he or she would simply be deemed lawfully present in the United States for a couple of years. Lawful presence is a big deal, because it means that the person wouldn’t be categorically denied certain benefits (such as social security benefits or health insurance); the status change doesn’t mean that these folks would automatically get any benefits – just that they’d be allowed to do things like buy health insurance, or pay into social security. Neither DACA nor DAPA said anything about granting permanent amnesty to any of the eleven million immigrants here illegally; both were simply short-term plans directing DHS to deport other groups of immigrants first.
As logical as de-prioritizing the deportation of these law-abiding young “dreamers” is, DACA has always been highly controversial. A major point of contention, particularly for conservatives, has been that the substance of immigration law is legislative (and not executive) turf. The counter argument is that DACA is really about immigration enforcement, and therefore, falls squarely within executive authority.
We know the Trump administration will have no trouble criticizing President Obama’s decision in DACA to have exceeded his presidential authority – but it’s going to be fascinating to watch the administration’s dance with Congress regarding the fallout DACA’s rescission. For all the political points the president may score with his political allies by un-doing an Obama-era order, he will squander that capital by throwing a Republican Congress a problem it definitely doesn’t want. In fact, Trump’s handling of DACA is a perfect microcosm of his entire selfish presidency, in which campaign rhetoric takes priority over common sense, and in which glory for Donald Trump takes priority over accomplishments for the Republican party. Trump will enjoy the accolades from supporters for being “tough on immigration,” while handing Congressional Republicans the task of making the tough call on how to handle 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants, many of who have lived their entire lives as Americans.
Politico reported Sunday that House Speaker Paul Ryan was informed of the president’s decision on Sunday morning, just two days after Ryan specifically said during a radio interview that the president should not terminate DACA. The end of DACA, the future of DAPA, and the practical way in which the federal government will handle this major change in immigration policy will take shape in the coming weeks and months; the president’s message, though, came through loud and clear today. He will do what it takes to stay popular with his base, fallout be damned. Neither humanitarian, nor financial, nor political sense will daunt him — just as he promised all of us during the campaign.