Politics & Policy

Trump’s Executive Amnesty

A Border Patrol agent monitors the Rio Grande River along the U.S.-Mexican border in May. (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)
Welcome to the ninth year of the Obama administration.

Getting control of illegal immigration is at the top of Donald Trump’s to-do list, and, on the campaign trail, he vowed to end the Obama administration’s “unconstitutional executive amnesty” on his first day in office.

So why hasn’t he done it?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA — program is rolling right along, another Obama holdover surviving and thriving in a Trump administration that is high on stagecraft and low on real action.

Candidate Trump was correct: DACA is unconstitutional, and it ought to be eliminated. If Congress wants to change the law and grant amnesty to those illegals who came to the United States as children, then Congress needs to act — and then face voters. So, how come the Trump administration is handing out new work permits — 17,000 of them in the early days of his administration — instead of making good on the president’s promise to nullify the program on day one?

One of the problems is that the first year of the Trump administration has been, in many ways, the ninth year of the Obama administration. Trump, who has consistently exaggerated his business career, has never run anything as large and complicated as a presidential administration, and he has left thousands of positions — including critical leadership roles — vacant. It was April before he got around to nominating Lee Cissna to run U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Cissna, who did not have a hearing until the end of May, still has not been confirmed.

Trump and his talk-radio cheerleaders speak darkly of a “deep state” resisting his policy agenda, such as it is, but one of the reasons that career bureaucrats are in a position to stall Trump administration initiatives is that the Trump administration has failed to install its own people in key leadership roles.

And that is why President Trump is failing to deliver on his promise to end President Obama’s executive amnesty — and is instead sitting idly by as his administration hands out work permits to illegal immigrants.

Beyond 17,000 new work permits handed out in the first quarter of 2017, more than 100,000 work permits for illegals have been renewed, according to the Washington Post.

Sean Hannity said that the election of Trump shows the world that “there’s a new sheriff in town.” When it comes to illegal immigration, that sheriff’s name is Barney Fife.

DACA was created ex nihilo by Barack Obama over the objections of, among others, Barack Obama, who had insisted that enacting a unilateral amnesty is beyond the power of the president.

DACA was created ex nihilo by Barack Obama over the objections of, among others, Barack Obama, who had insisted that enacting a unilateral amnesty is beyond the power of the president: “I am president, I am not king,” he told immigration activists. “I can’t do these things just by myself. We have a system of government that requires the Congress to work with the executive branch to make it happen.” DACA was created by a series of memos and directives from the White House, not by legislation. President Trump has the power to reverse these, today — this minute — with no need to consult Congress. Obama’s agenda largely lived by executive unilateralism, and it can die the same way — if President Trump will act.

But don’t be surprised if he doesn’t.

After insisting that DACA is unconstitutional and that undoing it would be an immediate priority for him, President Trump went wobbly. He told the Associated Press that going after DACA would not be a priority after all, and that those enjoying the protection of Barack Obama’s unilateral amnesty for illegal immigrants should — Trump’s words — “rest easy.”

“Rest easy” turns out to be a pretty good description of Trump’s model of presidential leadership. Leadership and legislation? He’s more of a Twitter-and–talk shows kind of guy.

Candidate Trump’s promises for what he’d do on his first day and in his first 100 days were always absurd, a particularly laughable feature of a candidacy rich in risibility. Never mind the first 100 days — where do things stand halfway through 2017? Even taking account of the usual campaign hyperbole, it is fair to judge the man by his own standards and by the promises he has made: He has reversed himself on labeling China a currency manipulator, on sanctioning Beijing, and on expelling China from the World Trade Organization; the Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land; the border wall remains unbuilt, and Mexico is not ponying up to build it; the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv is staying in Tel Aviv rather than being relocated to Jerusalem, the actual capital of Israel; taxes remain unreformed; Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran remains in place, as does his Cuba policy; and those illegal immigrants — he promised to remove all of them, remember — are still here, with thousands of them being given new work permits under the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

Some of Trump’s broken promises, such as those having to do with China, are the result of his abandoning bad policy ideas, which is to be welcomed. Some of them are the result of his not actually understanding the issues he talks about: For example, he promised to end Common Core, which is a state-level initiative rather than a federal imposition. Some of his failures are the result of his inability to get what he wants out of a Congress that is under the control of the party to which Donald Trump nominally belongs.

But many of Trump’s failures so far are the result of his unwillingness or inability to act, as with his failure to put into place the subordinates who will carry out his promise to end Barack Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty.

That criticism assumes that President Trump actually desires to keep his promise on DACA. The immigration hawks who supported him must be wondering whether he does.

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