DACA Debacle: Hawks See Lost Bargaining Chip

Conservatives worry Trump ceding valuable leverage with pull back on Obama immigration order

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 27 Feb 2017 at 8:45 AM

Every work day that President Donald Trump leaves his predecessor’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in place, about 210 illegal immigrants get protected status, based on averages from last year.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has not released DACA statistics since Trump took office, but in the fiscal year that ended in September, the government approved 52,940 new applications and renewed another 146,136. DACA, which applies to foreigners brought to the United States before age 16 prior to 2007, shields recipients from deportation in most cases and allows them to work in the United States.

“We’re very close to making a big issue of Donald Trump not honoring this promise.”

It has been a sore spot among immigration hawks, who otherwise are pleased at the shift in policy that Trump has enacted. He promised to revoke the executive action that created the program, but since becoming president has not done so. The president has spoken of having a “heart,” and the administration has signaled that the status quo will remain — at least for now.

It’s safe to say, people favoring a tougher line on immigration are getting antsy.

“We’re very close to making a big issue of Donald Trump not honoring this promise,” said William Gheen, founder of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, which endorsed the president early. “If he’s going to break this promise, he might break others.”

DACA recipients represent a small share of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. But hard-liners said Trump is wrong to leave it in place, even if most observers believe that group should not be a top priority for deportation.

“It’s still a big deal, because on the campaign trail, he said he would repeal it on Day One,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA.

DACA by the Numbers
Fiscal yearApprovedDenied
20121.7KNA
2013470.5K11K
2014 (initial)136.2K21.1K
2014 (renew)22.2KData withheld
2015 (initial)90.8K19.2K
2015 (renew)419.8K2.3K
2016 (initial)52.9K11.5K
2016 (renew)146.1K3.1K
Source: U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, noted that candidate Trump did not merely call DACA a bad idea; he argued that President Obama exceeded his legal authority in creating it.

“He needs to make a clear break with the program,” she said. “I don’t think [Trump’s position is] clear to a lot of the people who want to support his immigration agenda.”

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the think tank, said it is troubling that Trump appears to be surrendering on DACA without getting something of value in return.

He said Trump ought to use the program as a bargaining chip to advance his legislative agenda. For instance, he said, Trump might offer to keep the protections in place in exchange for eliminating the diversity lottery that awards about 50,000 green cards every year to applicants selected at random from around the world. Another possibility would be a law passed by Congress making it mandatory for employers to use the E-Verify system, which confirms that job applicants are authorized to work in America.

"I don't think there's a plan," he said.

At the very least, Krikorian said, Trump should suspend the program for new applicants and announce a date at which existing permits will expire.

"There is no case for the country to give DACA permits to new recipients who don't have them," he said.

Gheen said there is no reason for Trump to use DACA as a bargaining chip for changes in the law.

"I don't buy it," he said. "We don't want any new legislation. Everything that Donald Trump promised us is codified in the law."

  1. Center for Immigration Studies
  2. DACA
  3. Dreamers
  4. Illegal Immigration
  5. immigration
  6. NumbersUSA
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