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Donald Trump as a candidate vowed, “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties.” In particular, he promised to roll back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave legal status to illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States as children.
In March, the president made good, announcing he was rolling back DACA. Shortly after the president initiated the program’s rollback, however, district court judges in Brooklyn and San Francisco issued national injunctions to keep DACA in place. Now, a district court judge in the District of Columbia has gone even further. His ruling would not only keep the program in place but order the government to accept new applications. What?
This recent out-of-control judicial ruling speaks to two central issues that, increasingly, are becoming the deciding factor when it comes to Trump’s ability to accomplish his agenda: district judges hell-bent on blocking his efforts, and a Congress unwilling to do its job.
In areas ranging from the travel ban to rolling back some of Obamacare’s most controversial mandates, district court judges have proven themselves to be enthusiastic obstacles, stretching the limits of their judicial power to block the president’s efforts. In frustrating Trump’s policy goals, they are also hemming in his ability to exercise the same executive authority that President Obama used to create these same programs.
In fact, the key objections to DACA from the Right are not solely with the conference of legal status, but rather the lawless manner with which the program was created. When Congress failed to pass Obama’s legislative priorities, Obama declared “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” and effectively assigned himself the legislative role reserved for Congress. DACA arrived shortly thereafter.
Yet, where Obama had a pen, Trump now has an eraser. He should be able to use the same methods by which Obama created these programs to roll them back. But all of his attempts to do so have raised a furor on the Left and objections from district court judges contorting their legal analysis to keep Trump from changing anything.
The tart observation from Senator James F. Byrnes in 1933 seems more prescient now than ever: the closest thing to immortality on earth is a federal program.
Where district court judges have inserted themselves as a foil to Trump’s agenda, Congress also shares a large part of the blame, particularly when it comes to DACA. Trump actively sought to work with Congress to address the issue, even offering to codify the program in exchange for an end to chain migration and money for a wall at the southern border.
Yet Congress failed to deliver. On anything. Or even to spend any significant time deliberating or legislating on the issue. Inaction from Congress is all the more notable given the number of Republicans who, for years, ran opposed to Obama’s illegal amnesty. In their continued inaction, they not only are standing in the way of Trump’s agenda, they are wasting away what little credibility they have as principled legislators. Judges may get most of the attention, but congressional fecklessness is just as much to blame for DACA’s continued existence.
Practically speaking, keeping DACA in place maintains an unsustainable status quo. DACA, particularly now as the program is required to accept new applications, remains a strong incentive for further illegal immigration. Since January, the government has received 64,210 DACA renewal applications, according to the Justice Department. 31,860 have been approved, with 32,000 still pending. 54,840 of the current enrollees will not see their DACA status expire until 2020.
DACA is an insufficient remedy to the larger problem of illegal immigration. Without enhanced border enforcement, cities who follow immigration laws and a reformed legal system, DACA does nothing but encourage individuals to continue to break the law.
Moreover, it does not, as many Democrats claim, simply shield high school valedictorians from deportation. DACA statistics show that most enrollees are actually adults between the ages of 21 and 25, only 20 percent are college educated, and less than half demonstrate fluency in English. While there are certainly sympathetic cases among them, most DACA recipients are akin to ordinary illegal immigrants who have not merited the special status that DACA confers.
The security threats surrounding DACA are equally troubling. Over 2,000 DACA recipients have had their deferred status terminated due to “criminality or gang affiliation.” Given the “light and lean” vetting approach used by the Obama administration, DACA, and lack of immigration enforcement more generally, have also contributed to the rise of MS-13 gang activity across the United States.
Trump’s promise to end DACA inspired many of the voters who prioritize the rule of law over half measures for temporary political gains. While the Trump Justice Department defends his agenda against lower court judges bent on blocking it, it’s time for Congress to will itself out of its perpetual slumber and show itself as a willing and capable partner to Trump’s efforts. After all, it was congressional Republicans who led the initial opposition to DACA amnesty. Their current failure to support their president in actually taking down the program lays bare a deep hypocrisy that will no doubt be on the minds of voters going to the polls in November.
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