When it comes to immigration policy, the contrast between the Obama and Trump administrations could not possibly be any starker. Whereas President Obama institutionalized lawlessness, President Trump is determined to reverse course and enforce our nation’s immigration laws - a welcome change.
Earlier this month, in a memorandum issued by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the Trump administration formally ended President Barack Obama’s unpopular (and also illegal) Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).
DAPA came into existence when, back in 2014, Obama issued an executive order instructing government officials to defer the enforcement of our nation’s deportation law for an entire category of people - the parents of children born in the United States, and also of children who were brought to the country illegally. For clarification, “deferred enforcement of the law” is Washington-speak for ignoring the law.
DAPA, however, never went into effect because 26 states sued, and the U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld a temporary injunction, which effectively pressed the pause button on DAPA.
Ending an illegal amnesty directive of the Obama era that flouted the law is an undoubtedly important step for the Trump administration - even if the program that was rescinded never actually went into effect. As a nation that cherishes the rule of law, we simply cannot allow to stand presidential edicts that make a mockery of our written laws. And Trump should be applauded, not only for recognizing that truth, but also for taking the significant step to reverse this instance of defiant disregard for the law.
That’s the good news.
But noticeably absent from the DHS memo last week was the rescission of another illegal Obama program - DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Like DAPA, DACA is an Obama executive order that grants another form of large-scale amnesty - this one for those who were brought here illegally in childhood. But unlike DAPA, DACA is still in effect today. And the time to reverse this policy is long overdue.
Both the DACA and DAPA amnesty initiatives reflect Obama’s willful disregard for our system of separation of powers. When Congress failed to move forward with President Obama’s amnesty agenda, Obama took the extraordinary measure of saying his administration would not enforce the deportation laws on the books. Never mind that the U.S. Constitution charges the executive branch with the chief responsibility of enforcing the laws.
President Obama’s amnesty programs were never popular with American citizens. Both programs were a reminder that the Obama administration felt perfectly comfortable setting aside the law when it suited the president’s purposes.
As a candidate last year, Donald Trump promised to do away with DAPA and DACA, on the grounds that they are both examples of lawless amnesty. So, it’s no wonder that many conservatives - especially those who voted for President Trump because he was such an unabashed critic of amnesty - were scratching their heads in bewilderment that the Trump administration rescinded the not-yet-in-effect DAPA program, without also simultaneously rescinding DACA, which remains in effect and continues to undermine our immigration laws.
On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security rushed to issue a statement to clarify why DACA was not ended with the same memo about DAPA. An excerpt from the statement reads: “DAPA and DACA are two different programs … The fact that DACA was not rescinded by the same memo should not be interpreted as bearing any relevance on the long-term future of that program … The future of the DACA program continues to be under review with the Administration.”
As the Trump administration reviews DACA, it is worthwhile for administration officials to review several foundational truths of the rule of law. First, laws must mean what they say, and they must say what they mean. Second, selectively enforcing laws to suit the governing elite’s purposes is a hallmark feature of banana republics - and that practice has no place in the U.S. legal system. Third, duly enacted laws must be duly enforced; the non-enforcement of any law only invites more people to break the law.
Americans have a wide range of opinions on immigration policy. But one area where Americans are overwhelmingly united is on the issue of enforcing our laws on the books.
As the Trump administration continues its review of DACA, Americans should consider that review process an open invitation from the administration to call, tweet, email, and use every modern form of communication to let the White House know how vitally important it is to end DACA immediately.
President Trump has the unique opportunity here to establish his legacy as a rule-of-law president who reversed course on the systematic lawlessness that currently characterizes much of our immigration policy. He also has the rare opportunity to translate a major campaign promise into a decisive policy victory. Let’s hope the administration’s review of DACA points the president in the right direction on what must be done.