Where We’re at With DACA
Though he ran for president saying he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Donald Trump has taken a middle approach to the program. Started by Obama through an executive order, it lets people brought illegally to the U.S.when they were under 16 to obtain renewable two-year work and education permits after passing background checks.
Obama had majorities in the House and Senate in 2008 after he was elected president. He could have tried to pass DACA legislatively, but he didn’t. Republican opposition was too strong. Instead, he made an end-run around Congress despite Congress’s constitutional responsibility for such matters. He implemented it through executive order in 2012. Had Obama got legislative agreement, the “dreamers'” status wouldn’t be a question now.
Trump asserted that the executive order violated the Constitution. Once in office, he tried to save it and make it Constitutional, by having Congress encode the program into law. He also said he would sign DACA legislation as long as Congress also funded the border wall.
The young illegal immigrants’ temporary legal status begins expiring on March 5. More than 690,000 young people would be affected.
A Messy Fight
Congressional leaders met with Trump last Wednesday to see if they could come to an agreement on DACA. Democrats wanted to expand DACA, by passing the so-called DREAM Act. That would give the young immigrants’ relatives temporary status as well, and provide a path to citizenship for them and their relatives.
Trump refused. He does not want the program expanded to include “chain migration.” He prefers a merit-based system that favors higher-skilled workers.
Talks fell apart. Trump was accused of insulting third-world countries like Haiti. Senate Democrats seized on the incident and said they would refuse to agree on a short-term budget solution, known as a Continuing Resolution, if Trump did not agree to expand DACA. Without the CR, the government would “shut down.”
Democrats forced a shutdown that lasted from late Friday night through Monday. It proved rather toothless. Urgent services were not curtailed and even some non-urgent items like federal monuments were kept open.
Senate Democrats finally caved and voted for the 3-week CR when the GOP agreed to bring DACA up for a vote no later than February 8. The problem may not be resolved, however. The Republicans don’t know what the president wants. Democrats and Republicans so far cannot agree on the language of DACA and on tying DACA to funding for the border wall.
The Democrats want to include amnesty in DACA. Republicans and Trump appear resolved not to cave in on a DACA expansion.
Federal Court Wrinkle
Adding a wrinkle to things, on January 9, a federal district court judge in California issued a preliminary injunction halting the expiration of the DACA program. Trump’s DOJ immediately filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court. However, the DOJ did not ask the court to put the judge’s order on hold while waiting review. This allows the DACA program to continue in the interim. If the Supreme Court accepts the case, it will likely take several weeks to rule on it.
The program is controversial in part because some people covered by it grew up knowing their home country well enough to return now. Many frequently went back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico. They learned Spanish as their primary language.
Conservative opponents of the program point out that letting them remain makes border control much more difficult. It encourages people to get into the country in the hope their children will be able to stay. Even if their being illegal isn’t their fault, they’re still illegal immigrants.
Congress will likely pass DACA. But Republicans appear determined to get their border wall funding in exchange. Trump is also pushing for changes to asylum, mandatory worker verification and ending the visa diversity lottery.
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