President Trump’s Easter tweets declared that DACA is dead. In the enigmatic manner common to his pronouncements, which appear so adamant one moment only to be forgotten the next, this could mean either of two things:
DACA is dead. Or DACA is not dead.
Let’s begin with the first possibility. As we can tell by the spring in Trump’s step and his increasing pace of political rallies, it’s election season again. Golly, the man loves to campaign. And like any crowd-pleasing performer, he gives his public what they come for. What “Margaritaville” is to a Jimmy Buffett concert, border- bashing is to a Trump rally.
Now, as a matter of public policy, DACA doesn’t have much to do with the border. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy applies to individuals who took up residence in the United States no later than 2007. They also had to be children at the time of their arrival — meaning the choice to live as undocumented immigrants was out of their hands.
A large majority of Americans agree that these individuals, having grown up in the United States, should be allowed to stay. But for years they have been hostages to an endless back-and-forth in Congress about more controversial immigration issues. Recognizing there was no comprehensive immigration reform in the offing, then-President Barack Obama in 2012 ordered the Justice Department to create a protective category — DACA — to defer immigration enforcement actions against the young arrivals indefinitely.
When Trump announced in September that he would rescind DACA rather than defend it against court challenges, he presented the step as a painful one, driven purely by policy considerations. He assured program participants that nothing bad would happen to them. “I have a great heart for the folks we are talking about, a great love for them,” he declared. He predicted he would have little trouble persuading Congress to give them a more durable shield than Obama’s arguably unconstitutional executive action.
Those reasonable tones were long gone by the time the Easter Bunny hopped across the White House lawn. (Has anyone checked his papers?) Trump’s Twitter blast on Sunday mixed up the DACA issue with a porridge of scarcely related topics, including drugs, a so-called caravan of people walking on a road in Mexico, and the shape-shifting phantasm he calls “the Wall.” Keep in mind that people involved in the drug trade are not eligible for DACA, nor are the people walking in Mexico, nor are any people who might be crossing today’s pre-Wall border.
DACA plainly has died as a matter of humane public policy, and risen as a lively political football. It’s a game the Democrats are just as happy to play as Trump is.
But, but, but: The political game can go on only as long as federal judges continue to shield DACA participants from the consequences of Trump’s action. Courts have prevented full implementation of the president’s September order. And because the order has been stayed, airwaves and social media have not yet filled with images of thoroughly American young people, raised and educated in the United States, being yanked from their jobs and homes and families to be deported to countries they remember only dimly, if at all.
Suppose the courts were to step aside and allow deportations of DACA participants. There might be a few radical anti-immigration voices in favor of that result, but most Americans would be appalled. Faced with unpopular real-life results of his decision, it’s a safe bet Trump would rediscover his “great love” for the “dreamers” and DACA wouldn’t stay dead for long. In other words, the president is free to wave goodbye to the policy precisely because the courts have said — for now — that it isn’t going anywhere.
The Founders gave us an independent judicial branch to rein in the executive and legislative branches — that is, to prevent them from doing too much. I wonder what they would think of a case such as this, where the courts are protecting the president and Congress from the consequences of doing too little.
Polls clearly show what the public makes of such posturing and shenanigans. The inability of Washington elected officials to resolve issues, even when the public strongly supports a certain outcome, is a major factor in the collapse of civic confidence.
As one senator put it to me a few weeks ago: At least 70 percent of Americans support protections for childhood arrivals, and at least 70 percent of Americans support more spending on border security. “You would think a functional government could take two 70 percent issues and put them together to make a deal.”
Such common sense might apply if Trump and others in Washington were in the solutions business. But it’s campaign season again, and we’ve all learned what that means: The art of the deal gives way to the art of the demagogue.
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