DACA: Separation of Powers Is the Elephant in the Room Obama Just Ignored
United States President Donald Trump seems torn between pleasing his constituency and avoiding accusations that he’s a heartless nationalist. This would apparently account for his decision to defer to Congress on deciding the future of the Deferred Action for Children and Adolescents (DACA) program put in place by President Barack Obama in 2012. The policy makes little sense, as its recipients were granted amnesty without being given full citizenship; however, it seems cruel and perhaps unfair for Trump to change the rules of the game five years later.
But explaining Trump’s decision may actually prove much simpler than reconciling these two facts. Perhaps Trump believes in the separation of powers, and has no desire to expand his own executive authority.
There are times when a previous administration’s blunders make it difficult to come up with the appropriate policy. The creation of DACA was ill-advised in the first place, not to mention an unwarranted use of executive powers. But like it or not, DACA was created in 2012, and the young people granted amnesty as a result are innocent. To abruptly interrupt their lives and send them to foreign places that are their native lands only by technicality would be cruel and arbitrary.
The innocence of said “dreamers” notwithstanding, DACA was a poor decision in the first place because it goes too far in protecting them. To allow them to stay at all is already generous, but to make it impossible to deport them, even in confirmed cases of criminal violations, is irresponsible.
We call DACA recipients “dreamers” because the program replaced the Dream Act of 2001, a policy originally intended to create a path to citizenship for special cases involving illegal persons either born in the US or who had arrived very young. DACA, meanwhile, was an executive order signed into effect by Obama that didn’t establish a path to citizenship. Rather, the measure prevents them from being deported and allows them to work in the United States.
Were the dreamers in question US citizens today, then there would be no issue, as Trump cares about illegal amnesty in this case, not legal immigration. But DACA is a grey area between the two.
Recipients of DACA have not respected our laws or our system, and that makes this a sticky issue. The Center for Immigration Studies found that “most (dreamers) have committed multiple felonies in order to get jobs.” The measure grants them immunity from paying the price of these crimes. The way to deter crime is to punish it. Rewarding crime, and making people immune to its ramifications, only serves to encourage more law-breaking.
If Obama’s intention had been to undermine the authority of the law by creating incentives for people to break those laws, he could not have chosen a better strategy.
We must be careful not to muddy the waters of this issue. It’s not as simple as deciding whether DACA recipients should stay in the country. I agree with most people that they should stay. I actually believe that President Trump wants the same.
The actual issue here is whether or not action needs to be taken legally to better respect separation of powers, and the fact that the President of the United States, be he Barack Obama, Donald Trump or anyone else, does not, and never did, have the legal authority to enact such a decision through an executive order.
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This means that the actual villain in this scenario is not Trump, but Obama. It is essential that we respect the roles our different branches of government play, and that policy and legislation be enacted legally, according to our constitution.
Obama over-stepped his authority as POTUS with DACA. Let me be clear: Trump is not deporting these people, he is seeking a method for them to obtain a path to citizenship. DACA itself was the cause and the source of the present-day uncertainty about how to move forward. This issue belongs, legally, to Congress, not to the President, and it is correct of Trump to differ the decision to legislators. That’s the difference between a President, and a would-be dictator.