Politics & Policy

A Fair and Legal Replacement for DACA

(Reuters photo: Keith Bedford)

During the campaign, Donald Trump promised to cancel the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy “on day one.” The president did not get around to DACA on his first day in office, and it’s now looking like President Trump may not get around to DACA at all. Recent reports suggest that the White House has no imminent plans to touch the executive action granting temporary protection from deportation to more than 2 million illegal aliens.

President Obama’s DACA, issued in 2012 via memorandum, was a patently lawless use of executive power. After Congress (again) decided not to pass the DREAM Act, granting legal status to illegal immigrants who came here as children, the president abused his “pen and phone” to impose the law’s provisions unilaterally. The administration risibly claimed that this was an exercise of “prosecutorial discretion,” implying that the government would be evaluating applications for deferred status on a case-by-case basis. Unsurprisingly, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials have reported otherwise; in fact, anyone who appears to be under the maximum deferral age — that is, any illegal immigrant who appears younger than 35 years old — is simply presumed to be eligible for DACA. Under the policy, about 750,000 illegal aliens have been granted not only renewable, two-year deportation stays, but also work permits, Social Security numbers, access to the EITC welfare program, and driver’s licenses. Functionally, more than 2 million have been shielded from deportation for nearly five years.

President Trump’s sudden lack of interest in rolling back this gross executive overreach undoubtedly has to do with the prospect of political backlash over a very sympathetic segment of the illegal population. But there is no reason why these so-called DREAMers can’t be accommodated in a process that respects our system of government.

According to Politico, the Trump administration was accepting DACA applications following the inauguration at a rate of about 800 per day. (Politico estimated 140 new applications and 690 renewals daily, based on the most recent available data.) The White House’s first step should be to stop issuing new DACA grants. The Trump administration shouldn’t be extending the reach of Obama’s lawless action.

The second step should be either to end renewals, allowing existing DACA permits to expire over the next two years, or to announce that renewals will be granted only until the end of this year. The point would be to phase out the current system and implement a new, lawful one via a bipartisan deal in Congress.

The Senate is currently considering a measure, sponsored by Republicans Tom Cotton and David Perdue, to restrict the family-based migration system that has contributed mightily to the U.S.’s oversupply of low-skilled immigrants. Their bill, the RAISE Act, would do much to reorient the country’s immigration system to benefit American workers first. Immigration hawks in Congress also have long wanted a bill to mandate nationwide use of E-Verify, which would discourage employers from exploiting illegal labor. Republicans should offer legislation granting legal permanent residency to DACA-eligible aliens in exchange for congressional approval of the RAISE Act and nationwide E-Verify.

Put simply: This is a situation where everybody really can win — Democrats can get a permanent, lawful amnesty for DREAMers and Republicans can get steps toward a tighter, more rational immigration system. This should be the White House’s goal.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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