When retiring Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and rising star Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduce legislation for a permanent response to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, there’s clearly a path for a reasonable legislative deal in Congress. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump seems bent on turning that opportunity into a disaster.
DACA gives Republicans heartburn because President Obama circumvented Congress and effectively changed American immigration law by altering how it is enforced. That’s why then-candidate Donald Trump called DACA “illegal executive amnesty” in 2016.
Obama’s penchant for unilateral action notwithstanding, Congress must solve the underlying immigration problem that DACA attempts to address. Doing so will almost certainly require a bipartisan deal.
To be clear, DACA isn’t a blanket amnesty for all immigrants who have violated our immigration laws. It narrowly focuses on a population of immigrants who arrived as minor children. Immigrants shielded by DACA (around one million) likely account for less than ten percent of the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States (about eleven million).
Most of them have lived in America their entire lives. Telling them to “go back home” to a country that has never actually been their home isn’t reasonable. It’s also worth noting that we generally don’t hold minor children liable for parents who violate the law.
Lankford, Hatch, and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers Employment Education and Defending our nation (SUCCEED) Act as a good faith legislative response to DACA. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats have been pushing versions of the Dream Act for almost two decades.
Trump made striking a compromise difficult by arbitrarily giving Congress six months from September of 2017 to make DACA permanent. If Congress fails, Trump has pledged to “revisit” the issue. That gave Democrats a possible backstop in the event they agree with Republican immigration proposals.
Republicans will undoubtedly take some political heat for doing anything which benefits immigrants currently protected by DACA. In any good deal, all parties give a little. Republicans seem willing to yield some ground on DACA, but it’s not clear what aspect of immigration policy Democrats are willing to concede.
In recent immigration negotiations open to the press, President Trump said he has “no problem” passing a “clean” response to DACA now with promises from Democrats to “go into a comprehensive immigration reform procedure” in the future.
That isn’t the best deal; it’s not even a good deal. It’s more like a one-sided concession from Trump that he’s since tried to walk back by insisting on border wall.
With Trump willing to sign whatever Congress puts on his desk, he’s not exactly putting pressure on Democrats. Congress could deliver the Dream Act. It might be the SUCCEED act. Heck, it might be a new pet turtle. He’ll sign it and tell everyone how great it is.
To put it mildly, Trump has complicated DACA negotiations for Republican leaders in Congress. Nearly a million DACA beneficiaries and a broken immigration system simply can’t wait much longer for answers. Hopefully a majority of Congress understand the art of the deal better than the man who wrote a book on it.
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