President Donald Trump is in many ways the antithesis of former President Barack Obama. In the beginning months of his presidency, Trump has attempted to do away with many of Obama’s signature policies, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Paris Climate Accord, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Trump’s recent decision to end DACA has come under fire for endangering childhood illegal immigrants. Much of this criticism, however, is misguided, since the termination of DACA restores the limiting of Constitutional powers while motivating Congress to pass robust immigration reform.
DACA was introduced by Obama after the Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act—legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for alien minors. Acting out of dissatisfaction of the DREAM Act’s failure in Congress and his passion for the issue, Obama unilaterally enacted DACA in order to give illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children the chance to become lawful residents. DACA, in essence, accomplished by executive action what the Senate failed to pass with the DREAM Act. Although Obama stated in his initial DACA announcement speech that DACA was not a permanent solution to the illegal immigration issue, in November 2014 Obama announced his intention to expand DACA to make more illegal immigrants eligible for amnesty. In Obama’s view, the President had the right to impose laws when Congress could not pass legislation. This is a flagrant violation of executive powers expressed in the Constitution. Article I, Section 8, clause 4 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization”—not the President. The urgency and importance of the illegal immigration issue does not justify abrogating Constitutional powers.
On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DACA program would be ending in six months. Shortly after this announcement, Donald Trump urged Congress over Twitter to produce a proper replacement for DACA and established that his goal is not to kick out Dreamers—but to protect them constitutionally.
In addition to reinstituting limited executive powers, the termination of DACA may actually prompt Congress to pass immigration reform. Trump is acting as a catalyst for Congressional lawmaking by threatening Congress with the deportation of thousands of immigrants—something very unpopular with the public. By repealing DACA, he is correctly insisting that Congress create a set of laws to deal with alien minors—which is more proper than unilateral executive action.
Trump’s strategy is paying dividends. Almost immediately following Sessions’ announcement, Trump crossed party lines and met with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to hash out plans for reintroducing DACA protections. Trump even tweeted in support of permanent residency for childhood illegal immigrants, citing that they are “good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military.” Trump’s statement, combined with fact that he was recently able to cut a deal with Democratic lawmakers to avoid a government shutdown, should give people confidence that Congress will get its act together and pass bipartisan immigration reform.
So far in the presidency, Trump has surrounded himself with firebrand conservatives. But with DACA, he’s now proving to be a transformational president willing to ditch party lines in favor of working across the aisle to achieve policy goals. According to the Harvard-Harris poll, 73 percent of voters want to see Democrats work with the president. Perhaps there’s hope that the partisan grip of Washington may be loosening up.
The problem with DACA wasn’t so much the content of the law but how it was introduced. Illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children should be given some form of amnesty, but this should be done legally. Obama felt that he could bypass Congress to enact laws he saw fit, when he should have worked with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Trump is righting the wrongs of DACA by intending to protect the policy objectives while ensuring that the legislative process adheres to Constitutional rules. And, if all goes well, Trump’s handling of DACA might make Congress great again.