Despite ugly rhetoric, work to save DACA

President Trump had no good reason last September to end the DACA program and place hundreds of thousands of young adults, who have done nothing wrong, at risk of deportation. But having taken that action, and given Congress a six-month deadline to pass legislation to save the program and protect the so-called “Dreamers,” the president had an obligation to take a lead role in building compromise. Instead, the president relinquished that responsibility to Congress. And when a potential compromise did come forward, Trump chose to dismiss it rather than use it as a foundation on which to build a deal.

Now, outrageously, Trump is trying to shift blame to Democrats.

“DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money from our Military,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

Suggesting Democrats “don’t really want it,” is a lie. Democrats would happily approve a law extending the provisions of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program if given the opportunity. They have asked for a “clean bill” to do just that.

Manufacturing a false choice between protecting the Dreamers and supporting the military is cynical to the extreme. It is also painfully ironic since about 900 undocumented immigrants considered Dreamers are serving in the military, according to the Pentagon.

In reversing the executive order by his predecessor that created the DACA program, Trump continued on a course to seemingly undo all of President Obama’s policies, even ones that enjoy wide public support, such as protecting the environment and these young adults.

By 2012, Obama had become increasingly frustrated with the failure of Congress to deal with the issue, either as part of comprehensive immigration reform or as stand-alone legislation. Creating DACA to provide legal status to people who were brought to the country as children, and so have no culpability in their illicit standing, was both good policy and morally right.

DACA allowed these undocumented immigrants under age 36 to apply for legal status and work permits and to pursue higher educations. Individuals could renew their permits every two years. Applicants must either attend school, serve in the military or hold a job. They can have no serious criminal history. About 800,000 signed up, a number that dropped to about 700,000 because applicants were reluctant to renew given Trump’s positions on immigration.

Granted, Obama was taking a chance knowing a future president could reverse an executive order. He was betting, however, that the success of the popular program would lead to eventual congressional approval or, at least, continued support from the White House.

A recent CBS News Poll found 70 percent support for the program among Americans.

Last June, 10 Republican state attorneys general, seeking to put pressure on the president, threatened to sue if Trump did not end DACA. Trump had the choice to cave or adopt the legal position of the past administration, which had argued that “prosecutorial discretion” provided the president the authority to focus immigration enforcement where it best served the national interest. Any legal challenge to that position would have taken years, providing some space for a congressional solution to develop.

Instead, Trump agreed the program exceeded executive authority and congressional approval was necessary, even though he hadn't secured it yet.

A law passed by Congress is preferable, certainly. And last week, a bipartisan group of senators reached an agreement that pointed the way toward a compromise — a path of citizenship for DACA recipients and funding for border security, a Trump and Republican priority. The president rejected the deal, and in a meeting to discuss it made his profane comment questioning why the United States would want immigrants from Haiti and the nations of Africa.

The president and hardline Republicans should reconsider their intransigence on the matter, if not out of compassion, then out of political expediency.

Stories about young adults, who trusted the government and came out of the shadows to register under DACA, being rounded up for deportation to countries they don't remember will not play well for Republicans in the lead up to the 2018 election.

For now, an order to restart the program while a legal challenge to Trump’s action plays out in courts — issued last week by Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco — buys time. We implore the president and the Congress to take the opportunity to move past the nasty rhetoric and give Dreamers a permanent place in the nation they consider home. 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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