DACA, “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” is an Obama pen-and-phone program, not one created by legislation. It was simply a policy announced by President Obama on June 15, 2013. The date was chosen because it was the 30th anniversary of Plyler v. Doe, a Supreme Court decision that barred public schools from charging illegal immigrant children tuition.
Speaking in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama said: “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
Some people take paper seriously, and one could be excused for thinking Barack Obama would be one of them: he had to produce a Hawaiian birth certificate in order to put to rest the claim of the “birthers” that he was not an American.
Now, four and a half years after Mr. Obama created DACA, there are about 800,000 DACA people in the United States. They are often called “Dreamers” after the title of an act first introduced in 2001 (i.e., long before Mr. Obama used his pen to create DACA), called “The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.”
A fair question is, did Mr. Obama have the authority to create the DACA program? On 22 separate occasions, Mr. Obama said he couldn’t create his own immigration law, even going so far as to assure nervous conservatives, “I’m president; I’m not king” — a wise act of humility: the birthers would have demanded to see his crown.
Nevertheless, he said that “what we can do is to prioritize enforcement, since there are limited enforcement resources, and say we’re not going to go chasing after this young man or anybody else who’s been acting responsibly and would otherwise qualify for legal status if the DREAM Act passed.”
Fair enough, perhaps, but if so, then surely President Trump could use a similar rationale to cancel DACA (a nightmare for Dreamers). Mr. Obama focused his policy on deporting only people “who are really causing problems as opposed to families who are just trying to work and support themselves.” But even those families are using services (education, medical care) which the states are required under Plyler v. Doe to provide.
Last September, the Dreamers’ nightmare became reality: Mr. Trump ordered that the DACA program end in March 2018, saying he was driven by a concern for “the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system.” Attorney General Sessions was more specific, saying the program had “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.” As of March 6, DACA permits will begin to expire.
Unless Congress can make a deal with President Trump.
A comprehensive deal would have three other, non-negotiable, parts: building the wall, ending chain migration, and ending the lottery system. The wall needs no comment — except to say that in past (pre-Resistance) years a number of Democrats have supported building at least sections of a wall.
Under chain migration, citizens and green-card holders can sponsor extended family members to get their own green cards, who in turn can sponsor their extended family members, and so on, ad infinitum. The White House estimates that as many as 930,000 chain migration immigrants (more than 70 percent of all new immigrants and more than the total number of DACA people here now) come to this country every year.
Under the visa lottery system approximately 50,000 immigrants receive lifetime US work permits without regard to their skills (or, in most cases lack of them) or how they affect American workers.
What to do? It looks as if Mr. Trump is determined to do something for the Dreamers. It is true they are here illegally, but most of them came before reaching the age of reason. It was their parents who broke the law.
One obvious compromise is: let the Dreamers stay, but not become voters. The Democrats can be expected to balk at that, and the president may decide to allow the Dreamers to become citizens (assuming, of course, that the other three sine qua nons are agreed to).
His calculation might be: the Dreamers are more like ordinary Americans than other immigrants because they have been here since childhood — which means they will be both Republicans and Democrats, and may have some understanding of the genius of our constitutional system. And if, in the deal, the country can cut off chain migration — of 930,000 people a year — that will be a terrific benefit to the country.
Failing a compromise now, action will be deferred for voter consideration in 2018, and perhaps again in 2020. Will the voters get it right? We can only dream.
• Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of Citizens for the Republic.