Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Sept. 5 that the Trump Administration was terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA was designed to protect from deportation young people who were unlawfully brought into the country as children.
About 800,000 young people, called Dreamers, are now facing a nightmare scenario. Congress has six months to act on DACA, but Dreamers don’t know whether they will be able to stay in the only country they have ever called home, whether they can keep their job or complete their education, or whether they will be ripped apart from siblings who were born later and became American citizens. Idaho has at least 3,132 Dreamers.
Dreamers are not criminal aliens. To qualify for DACA they had to be attending high school, have a high school diploma or equivalent, or have been honorably discharged from the military. Any person with a serious criminal offense was disqualified. These are young people who are in the United States through no fault of their own. They are committed to this country and are contributing to society.
According to administration officials, the president was conflicted on whether to terminate DACA but was convinced by Sessions that the program was clearly unconstitutional. Sessions said he could not and would not defend it in court. It might be noted that this is the same Sessions who blasted a former deputy attorney general who refused to defend the president’s first travel ban on grounds of unconstitutionality. It is the Sessions who vigorously asserted that a president has virtually unlimited authority over immigration issues, as well as limitless pardon power. DACA was certainly an exercise of executive clemency.
The DACA program was primarily based by the previous administration on prosecutorial discretion--that is, where the prosecutor has limited capabilities, the primary enforcement effort should be devoted toward the more serious crimes. This makes sense and it is the path that Sessions claims to be following, except apparently for DACA.
A troubling alternate explanation for the DACA decision appeared in a McClatchy story that surfaced on Aug. 22. According to that story, senior administration officials wanted to use the Dreamers as a bargaining chip with Congress to obtain money for building the border wall and other immigration objectives. In essence, the Dreamers would be held hostage for wall funding and other concessions, which is not such a tender-hearted narrative. Congress had not been too keen to pony up money for the wall, seeing it as being too costly and ineffective. After all, the Great Wall of China did little to protect the Chinese Empire. Walls, generally, were rendered ineffective after the invention of tunnels and ladders.
The president gave some credence to the bargaining chip scenario when he indicated on Sept. 5 that he would not sign Dreamer legislation which did not include wall funding. Proof of the pudding would come if Congress could muster up the courage to do what is clearly right--to pass a clean bill legalizing the Dreamers and giving them a path to citizenship and to present it to the president for signature.