While supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protested outside, U.S. Supreme Court justices last week showed unusual engagement in arguing with attorneys and one another over whether President Trump is right to scuttle DACA on the grounds it’s legally indefensible — a strategy whose Achilles’ heel lurks in the fact a determination on DACA’s legality one way or the other remains an open question. And if DACA is illegal (and some locals thought President Obama should be impeached for this particular 2012 executive action), then what of Trump’s own executive actions on immigration of late? Are they legally defensible?
Predictably, Trump spewed more racist hatred via tweet amid all this, claiming that some of the young immigrants qualifying under DACA are “very tough, hardened criminals.” Which is another lie or exceptionally ignorant: A DACA applicant cannot qualify if he or she has been convicted of any significant misdemeanor or federal offense. And because DACA recipients must renew regularly, anyone found in violation is removed from DACA protections, which themselves were never intended to be anything more than temporary till Congress could get its act together.
One must appreciate the justices’ dilemma, both from conservative and liberal perspectives: Not only are the president’s hateful statements hardly helpful, poll after poll shows Americans overwhelmingly support a pathway to citizenship for the hundreds of thousands of so-called “Dreamers” brought to this country as children through no fault of their own. Many have never visited their native lands. Many don’t speak Spanish. Should the court allow the Trump administration to round up and deport these unwitting immigrants, the ruling would go down in infamy alongside the Dred Scott decision, rightly or not.
This newspaper blames neither Trump nor Obama for the broader dilemma. Congress has had plenty of chances to bow to the will of the public and pass a law ensuring this class of immigrants — many gainfully employed, some working among us as teachers, lawyers and doctors — can continue to be an integral part of our society and even become citizens. Yet Republican lawmakers who claim to have the best interests of these immigrants at heart are disingenuous: Many are quite willing to take this class of Americans hostage to secure more border security measures only marginally related to the Dreamers’ predicament.
Considering the Trump White House has said so many conflicting things about DACA it by now lacks all credibility, it’s time for bipartisan leadership from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who know the moment has arrived to quit using the innocent and vulnerable as political bargaining chips for, say, more border wall funding. For Republicans, the dangers are especially clear in 2020: If they allow the high court to clear the way for scrapping DACA and then do nothing (and in a volatile election year), some Latinos for Trump may well decide that punishing innocent Hispanic children for the sins of the fathers and mothers is simply a bridge too far.