Trump's callous gamble puts 'Dreamers' at risk

President Donald Trump is taking an unnecessary gamble in forcing Congress into a corner in hopes it will pass reasonable legislation and provide legal status to hundreds of thousands of productive young adults who are Americans in spirit, but whose parents brought them to this country illegally as children.

If the gamble does not pay off, about 800,000 undocumented immigrants — the so-called "Dreamers" — who trusted the government and came out of the shadows will face the prospects of seeing the information they provided used to track them down and deport them to countries they don't remember and that they never considered home.

It is cruel to place them in this position and it is unnecessary.

How did we get here?

President Obama became increasingly frustrated with the failure of Congress to deal with the issue, either as part of comprehensive immigration reform or as stand-alone legislation. Providing legal status to people who were brought to the country as children, and so have no culpability in their illicit standing, is both good policy and morally right.

Unfortunately a group of anti-immigrant congressional Republican hardliners, contending that such a move would be akin to “amnesty,” stood in the doorway of a legislative solution. And they still stand there.

Obama’s solution was an executive order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. It allows undocumented immigrants under age 36 whose parents brought them to the country as children to apply for legal status and work permits. Individuals can 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.

While the former president has tried to make the case this is a moral, not political issue, the timing of his DACA order in the summer of 2012, when he was seeking election to a second term and could benefit from firming up support in the Latino community, had a political element that invited opposition.

Obama also knew that an executive order could be reversed by a future president, even if such a hard-hearted move appeared unlikely.

Obama and supporters of DACA make the case that “prosecutorial discretion” provided the president the authority to focus immigration enforcement resources on criminal elements, while managing the status of these productive individuals who initially came here illegally. Yet in issuing work permits, the executive branch arguably stepped into a role the Constitution leaves to Congress.

This past June, 10 Republican state attorneys general, seeking to put pressure on the president, threatened to sue if Trump did not end DACA.

Trump should have called their bluff. While the executive order could have been vulnerable to the threatened legal challenge, that was hardly certain and it would have been a long process. A delay would have provided the administration the political breathing room to build a consensus in Congress to pass legislation.

Instead the president trotted out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an anti-immigrant zealot, to say the administration would phase out the program in the next six months. Sessions made wild, unsubstantiated allegations that the program had “put our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism.”

Later, in Trumpian fashion, the president professed “a love for these people” whose lives he had just plunged into uncertainty because of his needless action. On Twitter he said, “Congress has 6 months to legalize DACA.”

It should do so. But Trump’s pressure-cooker gambit could backfire if too many anti-immigrant Republicans rebel against a move to force their hands. Then what happens? Both Sessions and Trump have said the existing executive order is unconstitutional.

With this unpopular move, Trump painted himself into a corner. Unfortunately, it is 800,000 Dreamers he may leave stranded.

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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