DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an executive order issued by then-President Barack Obama in an effort to address one part of the country’s broken immigration system: the status of nearly 800,000 residents who were brought here illegally as children. When President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced their plan to rescind DACA in six months’ time, they challenged Obama’s order as legally suspect. In doing so, they threatened people who, as a group, have done nothing illegal.
The move prompted Obama to defend his actions in a rare post-presidential public comment: “Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us,” he said.
Obama critics argue that the former president exceeded his executive authority when he issued DACA. They want Congress to solve a problem they say Obama made worse. And, in a pattern we are getting used to seeing, the Trump/Sessions announcement prompted legal challenges by those seeking to preserve the questionable status quo. So, what’s next?
We would be dreamers ourselves if we believed that Congress could pass a DACA replacement law in six months’ time, let alone get serious about addressing the problems with our immigration system. But Trump has dumped the issue squarely in the congressional lap in a move that successfully panders to his base, but ignores the majority of Americans who, polls show, support letting the DACA children remain in the United States.
The move was vintage Trump. In short order, he made DACA somebody else’s problem and granted himself deniability if nothing gets done and deportations begin. That’s a real problem for Congress. They know where Trump’s sympathies lie and they know that inaction on DACA will feed right into the president’s anti-immigrant views.
Immigration is the domain of Congress, so we can understand why they should deal with DACA. Foreign policy, meanwhile, is the responsibility of the executive. Nevertheless, in a move that mirrors the DACA dance, Trump is also about to hand off further action on the Iran nuclear deal to Congress. This time he announced the plan through U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who explained to the American Enterprise Institute why the United States might not recertify Iran’s compliance with the agreement next month, and just leave it to Congress to deal with Iran and its misbehavior through economic sanctions. Such a move would enable the president to have his cake and eat it too — he would end the much criticized Iran deal and blame the decision on Congress.
The Trump Tango on DACA and Iran may be artful maneuvering, but it is not good governance. Leaders need to lead, not just pass off responsibility to others while implicitly threatening to veto a result they don’t like.