Well, the Trump administration certainly is persistent.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it would no longer accept new applications under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and would limit renewals of current protections to one year (down from two) while charging the same $495 filing fee (effectively doubling the cost for two years of protection).
At the same time, the administration said it is reviewing the history of DACA in light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that it had violated regulatory procedures when it sought to kill the program. That suggests DACA very much remains a target.
“When the administration next acts on DACA, it will be on the basis of the comprehensive review of the substantive legal and legal policy justifications offered for winding down the program,” a White House official told reporters shortly before the DHS announcement.
Will this new move last longer than a DACA advocate’s sprint to the courthouse? That’s unclear, given how the administration is going about it. Acting DHS Secretary Chad R. Wolf rescinded memos issued by his predecessors on how the program should operate and released his own new memo establishing these new guidelines.
But a federal judge in Maryland on July 17 ordered the administration to resume accepting new DACA applications; whether this new memo sidesteps that order or runs afoul of it is unclear.
Regardless of the legal arguments involved here, the administration is pursuing bad policy to exploit divisive electoral politics.
Immigration has been a thorny issue for decades now, and President Donald Trump fanned dissent over enforcement of existing laws into a political tailwind that helped propel him to the White House. Yet except among immigration hardliners, Americans — including most Trump voters — support at a minimum protecting “Dreamers” from deportation
Further, most Americans support creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers, people who since childhood have lived in the U.S. without permission after decisions made by their families.
For many, the U.S. is the only home they have known. They have been educated here, become part of communities, and as they advanced into adulthood many have started families and in some cases businesses. By one estimate, nearly 30,000 current DACA recipients work in health care alone, crucial employees particularly during this pandemic.
And here’s a rare moment of agreement between me and the White House. President Trump has said, and Wolf’s memo reaffirms, that Congress has had plenty of time to clarify its intent for how Dreamers should be handled, and it has failed to do so.
“Even if the DACA policy could have been justified as a temporary measure when it was created, Congress arguably has had more than sufficient time to consider affording permanent status or immigration relief to the class of aliens covered by the policy,” Wolf said. “And yet, although various proposals have been advanced to do that, Congress has so far declined to take action.”
Wolf went on to suggest that failure to act is itself a signal on Congress’ intent.
“In the face of this failure to reach a legislative solution, I have serious doubts as to whether DHS should continue to provide either a reprieve from removal or a grant of attendant benefits to more than half a million aliens through a broad, class-based deferred-action policy,” he said.
But Congress, unfortunately, fails to act as a force of habit, and those failures must be read for what they are: congressional dereliction, not congressional intent.
Congress needs to saddle up and fix this. Variations of the Dream Act have been introduced since 2001, but all withered on the vine. President Barack Obama crafted DACA precisely because of Congress’ inability to find a way to protect Dreamers from deportation — a vastly unjust punishment for the actions of their parents.
More fundamentally, it’s an indictment of Congress that it is so willing to let the lives of more than 600,000 people twist in the wind for so long. The conundrum in which the Dreamers find themselves has a clear and politically popular resolution, but on Capitol Hill, political cynicism wins out.
Scott Martelle, a veteran journalist and author of six history books, is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.
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