The one silver lining in President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind amnesty for immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children is that it puts appropriate pressure on Congress to do its job. No one wants these Americans deported to countries that aren’t their homes. The only way now to prevent that is for lawmakers to engage again in constructive governing.
President Barack Obama shielded this special class of immigrants with an executive memo in 2012 called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It extended protections to roughly 800,000 of the so-called Dreamers, many now well into adulthood.
It was the right thing to do, but the wrong way to do it.
Conferring legal benefits on immigrants is the purview of Congress, not the executive branch. Obama acted after Congress bogged down on immigration reform, calling DACA a stop-gap measure intended to be temporary until Congress acted.
Typically, Congress accepted the Band-Aid and excused itself from healing the wound.
But DACA was problematic from the beginning. Presidents can’t suspend the Constitution simply out of frustration with an obstinate Congress. Separation of powers exists for a reason. Resolving the issue of what to do with children who are outside the law through no fault of their own is in Congress’ lane.
In deferring repeal of DACA for six months — or indefinitely, it was hard to tell from the president’s mixed messages — Trump is sending a demand to Congress to step up.
Both Democrats and the majority Republican leadership have expressed support for codifying DACA into law. Getting there, though, may require some serious horse trading.
The president and some of his supporters have already suggested a willingness to make DACA law in exchange for funding Trump’s desired wall along the Mexican border.
While building the wall would be a bad bargain for taxpayers, it is likely some sort of concessions will be required to get Republican support. That’s what “regular order” governing looks like.
The price, however, should not be too high. Across the spectrum, supporters of the Dreamers are rising to urge Congress to act. Businesses don’t want to lose valued workers. Colleges don’t want to see talented students go. And communities don’t want to say goodbye to contributing citizens.
Trump may not have as much leverage here as he thinks. Having thrown the issue back to Congress, he would be hard-pressed to veto a bipartisan solution should one reach his desk.
And after DACA becomes a law rather than a legally suspect executive memo, the Dreamers will be able to go on with their lives without the uncertainty they’ve been living with.
It would be nice to think passage of a DACA law could be the first step in the comprehensive immigration reform the nation needs. But six months may be too ambitious a timetable for such a complex endeavor.
A stand-alone DACA bill, though, is entirely doable, if lawmakers care as much about the Dreamers as they say they do.