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The other shoe has dropped. On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will end in six months. That wind-down period is intended to allow Congress to craft a legislative alternative to the program – and deflect accountability away from a president who did not have the guts to make such an important announcement himself.
Whether Congress acts within such a short time frame is an open question. What is clear is that this decision shows cruelty to those whose only home is here. Although phasing the program out will not make the country any safer, it will cost us dearly.
Trump became president, in part, by convincing Americans that he was a skilled businessman with strong negotiating skills. If that were true, we never should have arrived at where we are today. The only reason Trump had to make a decision on DACA was because a group of state attorneys general, led by Texas, threatened to sue his administration if he did not promise to end the program by September 5.
But this lawsuit was never more than a threat. Presidential administrations get sued regularly, by states, and by special interest and advocacy groups. Obama fought for the Affordable Care Act all the way to the Supreme Court and won. With Trump, all it took was a letter from nine states to make him cave. Not even an actual lawsuit; just a letter. Who’s looking “weak” – one of the president’s favorite insults – now?
If Trump were as tough as he likes to claim to be, he could have ignored the letter from the state attorneys general, because their deadline was arbitrary, artificial, and legally unenforceable. He could have called the Texas attorney general and told him to back off. Instead the president allowed himself to be legally bullied by the state officials into dumping a program that has transformed the lives of about 780,000 young people.
Had Trump called the states’ bluff and allowed the threatened lawsuit to proceed, he could have bought himself about two years’ worth of time to lean on Congress to pass an alternative to DACA. Such a scenario would not have been far-fetched. There is bipartisan support for the plight of the Dreamers, and 75 percent of Trump’s own voters think that these young people should be allowed to obtain legal status. However, because Trump lacks a legislative spine (as well as a fundamental understanding of how our government works), his supposed negotiating acumen will never be put to this test.
What’s astonishing is that our first “CEO President” fails to grasp the economic argument for leaving DACA in place. There is ample research showing that the program has been a net gain for the U.S. economy. One study found that DACA benefitted both immigrants and the native-born. That’s because, thanks to DACA, hundreds of thousands of young people are working, spending, starting businesses, and paying taxes.
Conversely, the Cato Institute has reported on the negative fiscal impact of ending DACA. “We estimate that the fiscal cost of immediately deporting the approximately 750,000 people currently in the DACA program would be over $60 billion to the federal government along with a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over the next decade,” their researchers wrote in January.
In winding down DACA, the president likely felt that he had to please his shrinking base of voters. Yet no one will likely be any safer because we are deporting young people with clean records. Passing a background check is part of applying for DACA, despite former Trump immigration advisor Kris Kobach’s false rhetoric about recipients being “gangbangers” and “criminals.” In fact, DACA grantees include medical students, law enforcement officers, and teachers.
The only change that will occur from phasing out DACA is that thousands of young people will lose their jobs, be forced into the underground economy or unemployment, and be at immediate risk for deportation. How ironic that a president who brags of being a “job creator” unveiled this strategy to increase unemployment just after Labor Day weekend.
The moral bankruptcy of this decision was on full display in Sessions’ announcement. He falsely described DACA as “executive amnesty.” He claimed that it was responsible for an influx of central American minors at our southern border, when there is no data to support this claim. And he invoked the “impartiality of the law” as justification for ending DACA just weeks after Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Trump’s DACA decision shows moral cowardice, bad business judgement, and self-destructive political instincts. The former real estate developer has shown again that he is only good at tearing apart – not building up – this country.