by Gordon Adams
DACA—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created through a 2012 executive order signed by President Obama—is dying. All the immigrant support groups say it. Donald Trump, they say, announced a wrong and cruel decision on September 5, putting 800,000 young, tax-paying residents, the working and studying children of undocumented immigrants, at risk of deportation. He must be confronted and condemned.
Maybe so. But maybe there is a way to pocket Trump’s decision to kill the DACA program as a win-win victory for everyone, including the DACA kids. Whether by design or inadvertence, the Trump decision may have created a perfect storm for the rescue of these 800,000 residents.
How so? There are all those Republicans, many of them anti-immigrant, who are looking for a legislative win, having failed to kill the Affordable Care Act and done nothing to improve health-care coverage for Americans. Although they have delayed the budget and debt crunch for three months, the Republicans are unhappy and still not in possession of a legislative victory they can truly own.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell so far has had one and only one demonstrable win—confirming Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. McConnell needs his mojo back. House Speaker Paul Ryan has failed as badly as John Boehner did in trying to knit together the un-knittable—a fractious and ineffective Republican Caucus.
The White House is rapidly earning a reputation for chaos, mindless meandering, Twittering the nation to death, failing in every effort to legislate its priorities—budget, infrastructure, tax reform, health care, even the much-touted wall with Mexico. So far it has demonstrated ineffectual and blundering leadership unmatched by any White House in our nation’s history. And it is increasingly ignored by the Congress that, itself, can’t do anything, either.
Yet this same White House and its error-laden voice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announced the death of DACA in a way that might actually provide the opening for a win for everyone. There has been lots of anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of this White House around the DACA termination, no mistaking that. But in its announcement, the administration framed the issue not so much as an attack on immigrants but as a constitutional problem. The administration argued that President Obama overreached in creating DACA as an administrative program in the Department of Homeland Security rather than asking Congress to legislate such a program.
Let’s set aside the reality that until now, Congress has not been willing to legislate this or any other immigration reform program. Now may be the perfect moment for one. And low and behold, there is actually a bill that would rescue DACA, called the Dream Act. It’s been around for years and was just strengthened and reintroduced in July. Congress does not have to hold years of hearings and detailed negotiations. The language already exists.
Most important, the Dream Act is bipartisan—a wonder in these days—and at a very senior level, having been re-introduced by Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
The Act is straightforward. For every DACA and temporary protected status person it would provide a long, careful path to citizenship. As long as they entered the US before the age of 18, have been here for four years before the Dream Act passes, stay here until they apply, go to college or enroll in a secondary school, are not convicted of criminal offenses, pass a medical exam and a background check, they are eligible for DACA. And it would take an applicant at least eight years to finish the process, while giving them provisional immigration status.
There is no question that most Americans feel differently about DACA kids (many now grown and working; many in school) than they do about immigrants, in general. The DACA kids did not choose to come here; their parents brought them here. Since they’re already here, the border doesn’t have to be strengthened to keep them out. Most of them have unblemished personal records. Most of them work, pay taxes, and contribute to the American economy. They are, in all respects, Americans, except for this one thing: their citizenship status. They win our hearts; they could, and should, be American citizens.
This may be the moment for a fast fix, not a moment for anger in the streets, the kind of clash we have seen so often over the past seven plus months. This may be a wonderful opportunity to accomplish the unimaginable—a bipartisan victory that legislates a positive program focused on a group everyone seems to care about.
This may be the moment when leaders desperate for a win, pick up an existing text, scrub it clean, pass it with both parties largely in support, and put it on Trump’s desk for signature. Would he sign it? He has already said, several times, that he was sympathetic with the DACA kids. He has framed the issue as something that requires congressional action, and here it would be. If the bipartisan support in Congress holds, even his veto would be overridden.
Time to pocket the win-win.
Gordon Adams is professor emeritus at the School of International Service, American University, and a co-leader of Mainers for Accountable Leadership. Photo: Defend DACA rally in Los Angeles, September 5, 2017 (Molly Adams via Flickr).