WASHINGTON—The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which for seven years has shielded from deportation about 700,000 individuals brought to the United States as minors, has become a flashpoint in American politics.
The highly controversial program came to the fore this week as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Nov. 12 in the Trump administration’s challenge to DACA. A large rally of chanting pro-DACA activists stood outside the courthouse for hours that day as legal submissions proceeded inside.
Following through on his campaign promises, President Donald Trump tried to end DACA in 2017, only to be hit with an array of restraining orders from federal judges who maintained that the program could not be shuttered. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency has been ordered by the courts to keep taking applications from DACA recipients.
Liberals tend to say the various judges acted out of principle and compassion in a spirit of welcoming generosity; conservatives tend to say the judges are part of the anti-Trump resistance movement and acting like politicians, imposing their policy preferences instead of being impartial arbiters of the law.
To conservatives, DACA is the essence of political corruption, a lawless program backed by the left-wing, corporate-backed, open-borders movement, and the litigation before the Supreme Court is a means of restoring constitutional norms. To liberals, DACA is simple human decency.
Conservatives see DACA recipients as a wedge calculated to clear the way for mass amnesty and even higher immigration rates in the future. Liberals see them as innocent victims who are part of America’s future.
Against that backdrop, at the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Noel Francisco said a key problem with DACA was “that there’s no limiting principle” involved in it.
“The theory on which DACA rests effectively allows the government to create a shadow INA [Immigration and Nationality Act] for any category of aliens that it chooses to make low-priority targets, a shadow second-tier INA,” he said. In terms of legal authority for DACA, “there is simply nothing there.”
DACA prevented recipients from being removed from the United States and allowed applicants to go to the front of the proverbial immigration line, breeding resentment from law-and-order enthusiasts and those who immigrated to the country by properly following the rules. DACA program participants received temporary, renewable employment authorization as well as access to government benefits such as Social Security.
It is not merely the objective of the program, a quasi-amnesty for young people, largely Latinos, that has been controversial since then-President Barack Obama created it in 2012, but the method by which it was brought into being.
“I am not king,” Obama said in October 2010, responding to pressure from activists and lawmakers to grant amnesty. “I can’t do these things just by myself.” In March 2011, he said with “respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case.”
In May 2011, Obama acknowledged such a program would be unconstitutional, saying he was unable to “just bypass Congress and change the law myself. … That’s not how a democracy works.”
But the next year, Obama created DACA unilaterally with the stroke of a pen, launching a largely media-driven mythology about the program’s young recipients.
DACA, he said at the time, was “not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”
Journalists, activists, and others picked up on Obama’s not-so-subtle cue and began to portray DACA recipients as patriotic, even heroic pioneer-like figures who exemplified the very best that America had to offer—even though they weren’t Americans. DACA recipients are a subset of about 4 million so-called Dreamers, many of whom failed to apply for relief under DACA, but who could conceivably qualify under the kind of amnesty that Democrats and some Republicans are pushing for in Congress.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told The Epoch Times his group hopes the court produces “a clear statement … that no president has unlimited authority to ignore Federal immigration limitations and admit unlimited numbers of aliens based on personal policy preference. This was Obama’s ultimate position, and one that is very dangerous.”
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who boasts he was one of the first lawmakers to call for the DACA program to be created, said after oral arguments that the Supreme Court was “considering an issue of fundamental human rights—the fate of Dreamers, hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who came to the United States as children. They are American in every way, except for their immigration status.”
Trump has expressed sympathy for DACA recipients, despite objecting to the way his predecessor created the program.
“President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” he tweeted hours before the Supreme Court hearing.
This tweet was too much for immigration hardliner and conservative author Ann Coulter, an early endorser of Trump’s presidential run who has become increasingly impatient with what she considers his slow progress on immigration issues.
“Okay, that does it. I give up. They can stay. You must go,” the author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!” (2016) and “Resistance Is Futile!: How the Trump-Hating Left Lost Its Collective Mind” (2018) replied in a tweet.
Some grassroots conservatives share Coulter’s frustration over Trump’s approach to DACA, even though the president’s approval ratings among Republicans remain sky-high.
FAIR’s Stein lays the blame for the situation on Democrats, who “have repeatedly shown that they would prefer to use minor children and DACA beneficiaries as a political bludgeon rather than as a compromise position in order to achieve otherwise durable solutions to future problems.”