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June 18, 2019

By Playing Politics with DACA, Trump is Toying With Innocent Lives

[Cross-posted from the Globe Post]

Announced in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is one of the signature policies of the Barack Obama administration. It provided temporary relief, including work authorization, for noncitizens brought to the United States as children. Implemented within months of the 2012 election, the policy followed several years of record-setting numbers of removals and the failure of Congress to pass immigration reform.

Making immigration enforcement a cornerstone of his presidential campaign like no other in modern U.S. history, Donald J. Trump promised to dismantle DACA. That policy, however, for the most part, remains in place. Although President Trump blames the courts for barring his efforts to rescind DACA, the true reason is simpler and more sinister: the Trump administration continues to benefit from playing politics with immigrant lives.

The Supreme Court may well soon decide whether to review the lower court rulings halting DACA’s rescission. But even if the Court takes up the cases, it could still take a year or more for a final resolution. Lives will hang in the balance.

Trump’s Aggressive Immigration Measures

Exemplified by the advocacy for a wall along the U.S./Mexico border and the Muslim ban, Trump’s administration has put into place numerous aggressive immigration enforcement measures. Such measures also include ending Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans, Haitians, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and others, mass detention of Central Americans seeking asylum, and family separation.

The president also has sought to restrict legal immigration, specifically denigrating lawful family-based immigration as “chain migration” and calling for a new immigration system favoring skilled, educated, and English-speaking immigrants.

President Trump unquestionably sees it as politically beneficial to inject tough immigration talk into the news and, consequently, he often does so. DACA is just another political pawn in the larger immigration game.

DACA and Dreamers

Within days of taking office, President Trump acted on immigration, issuing the first executive order known as the “Muslim ban” and orders on border security and interior immigration enforcement.

Action on DACA took longer, however. Politics, pure and simple, explain the delay. While DACA’s death was rumored for months, a bipartisan group of members of Congress advocated maintaining the policy, which benefited a relatively popular group of immigrants who were in this country without authorization due to no fault of their own.

The political allure of the Dreamers can be seen in the many versions of an immigration bill known as the DREAM Act, which had the support of prominent Republicans as well as Democrats, over more than a decade.

Finally, in September 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions – not President Trump – announced the rescission of DACA. Yet DACA remains. Courts halted the rescission, questioning the reasoning offered by the Trump administration for rescinding the policy.

Courts Halt DACA Rescission

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that, because the administration’s claim that DACA was not lawful and simply wrong, the rescission was likely to be found “arbitrary and capricious” and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. It allowed an injunction barring DACA’s rescission to remain in place. A couple of weeks ago, the Fourth Circuit found that the decision to rescind DACA “was not adequately explained and thus was arbitrary and capricious.”

The Trump administration could quickly remedy what the courts said was missing: a rational explanation for rescinding the policy. The administration, for example, could say that Congress is the most appropriate branch to address the legal status of the DACA recipients. Importantly, no court has held that DACA is required by the immigration laws or that there is some other legal right to DACA relief. Rather, the courts have held that the Trump administration has not adequately explained its reasoning for dismantling DACA, an easily cured defect.

The Trump administration has not offered an adequate explanation because of politics. The young noncitizens who benefited from DACA are politically active and popular. There is little political upside to the administration to push to end DACA, which has some Republican support. The political benefits of blaming “liberal” courts for keeping DACA alive outweigh any benefits of actually abolishing the policy. In this vein, Trump frequently blames the courts and Congress for sidetracking his efforts to build the border wall, punish “sanctuary cities,” and the like.

DACA recipients and their allies have been active. Immigrant advocates have allowed their voices to be heard. Legal challenges to the DACA rescission, and many other Trump policies, have been largely successful. In early June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the DREAM and Promise Act of 2019, which would provide relief to young undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, and holders of Temporary Protected Status.

Human Impact

Immigration is a powerful political issue for President Trump. Although it energizes his base, the administration’s tough immigration stands have human impacts. The efforts to rescind DACA have frightened hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who see their ability to remain in the United States – the only nation that many of them have ever truly known – placed in question.

Although the courts have required current DACA recipients to renew their relief, some recipients declined to renew, fearing possible removal if they sought any kind of relief from the U.S. government. In addition, the court injunctions did not require the administration to accept any new DACA applications. Thus, even though DACA has not been rescinded, it has been limited, and young immigrants have been harmed.

DACA unquestionably is an important issue. Sadly, the administration continues to play politics with peoples’ lives. Immigrants live and work in – and unquestionably are part of – our communities. Harsh rhetoric questioning their humanity, claiming that the nation is being invaded, and more will offer political benefits to the president but injure real people.

What the United States truly needs is for Congress to overhaul the immigration laws. The nation needs a 21st-century system for legal immigration. It needs a path to permanent legal status for undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, and Temporary Protected Status holders. Until Congress acts, the nation will continue to see human casualties in the war on immigrants.