Trump Puts Repeal of Obama Amnesty on Backburner
Immigration hawks say DACA being used as bargaining chip, hope president 'won't overplay his hand'
As the White House prepares new efforts to beef up border enforcement and deportations, the administration will try to strategically cut around those protected by an executive amnesty that former President Barack Obama issued in 2012.
New enforcement memos, issued Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security, broaden the powers that federal officials have to remove illegal aliens. The memos clarify an earlier executive order issued by President Donald Trump.
“President Trump has a big wish list on the immigration platter … [DACA] would probably be a very good bargaining chip for Trump to use.”
While Obama targeted for removal the illegal aliens convicted of serious offenses, the new policy supported by Trump will have federal agents deport anyone convicted of any criminal offense, according to the New York Times.
The memos are already bringing howls from the Left. And the memos are likely to help Trump get control of border agents who are not following all of the new policies he has implemented. Homeland Security said on Tuesday that it wanted 5,000 new border patrol agents and an end to catch-and-release.
Yet this tougher policy spares one large and somewhat influential block from the more vigorous enforcement: illegal immigrants who have been covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, Obama’s 2012 amnesty for people ages 31 and under who were brought to the United States as children.
Despite promises on the campaign trail last year to end DACA and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), Trump has recently backtracked on the executive orders.
DAPA has been frozen in court for two years, but because DACA is still active, about 800 illegal immigrants are applying for coverage every day. DACA coverage gets the young aliens new or renewed work permits, and allows them driver's licenses. The coverage is good for two years.
Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary, would only say at Tuesday's press briefing that the order will not apply to DACA recipients.
Trump not revoking DACA within his first week in January surprised some of his biggest supporters from the ranks of those who have fought for curbs on illegal immigration for decades.
Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said in a Jan. 23 blog post that "if the Trump administration just continues to issue work permits to illegal aliens as though the election never happened, not only is it an in-your-face betrayal, it also weakens congressional Republicans' bargaining position."
Other immigration watchdogs believe Trump is using DACA as a bargaining chip in a wider scheme to strike a "grand bargain" on immigration with Congress. While both chambers of Congress are controlled by Republicans, major changes to immigration laws could be scuttled by Democratic senators using the filibuster.
To advance a major compromise on immigration and possibly the border wall, Trump could trade DACA for concessions on immigration, some watchdogs theorize.
"Let's face it," said Dave Ray, director of communications for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). "President Trump has a big wish list on the immigration platter ... [DACA] would probably be a very good bargaining chip for Trump to use. Hopefully, he won't overplay his hand."
But the watchdogs maintain even in a compromise, DACA and DAPA likely have to be dissolved. The executive order is unconstitutional, they say. Even Trump called it unlawful, at a campaign rally last year in Phoenix.
"DACA was unconstitutional in the first place and should be allowed to lapse," said Ray. "While [DACA recipients] should not be a priority for enforcement, they should not be exempt from enforcement."
Still, the political optics of deporting young people, some of whom have been here since they were infants, back to nations they do not know, appears to have the president nervous.
Speaking to the press at his first solo news conference on Thursday, Trump was asked about DACA.
"We’re going to show great heart," Trump told reporters. "DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids.
In many cases, not in all cases. And some of the cases, having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers too. But you have some absolutely, incredible kids, I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way — it’s a very — it’s a very, very tough subject."
But the apparent softening is not to say there aren't officials concerned with the president's pledge within the White House.
The Los Angeles Times reports Trump aides are working on a way to phase DACA out without a high-profile action on the part of Trump. In a Thursday story, the Los Angeles Times says one option is to direct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to have Department of Justice lawyers to review the program.
"If the Justice Department determines that DACA is not legal or is no longer a responsible use of prosecutorial discretion, the Department of Homeland Security would be instructed to stop awarding and renewing work permits," the Los Angeles Times found.
Still, Trump is likely to be blamed for Sessions' actions. Another option would be for states to sue over DACA, as they did over DAPA. That would likely shift the blame for repealing DACA elsewhere.