When President Trump last week started a six-month countdown clock to end his predecessor’s executive order protecting immigrants who were brought illegally to America when they were children, the denunciations came fast, furious, and fevered. Angry outrage has become the standard reaction to almost everything Trump says and does, often with reason. But on the issue of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that fury is misplaced. Trump has created an opening that should gladden conservatives and liberals alike — one that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle should exploit.
For years, legislators have allowed presidents to push the limits of executive power, bypassing Congress on issues ranging from warrantless wiretaps to health care subsidies. Lawmakers, constantly battling each other, have failed to defend what should be their exclusive power to make the nation’s laws. Unexpectedly, Trump has just handed them a chance to reclaim lost ground.
Barack Obama’s DACA policy was a classic example of achieving an excellent end through terrible means. It offered to protect 1 million or so young people from deportation and allow them to work legally, so long as they stayed out of trouble, finished school, and registered with the government. More than three-fourths of eligible immigrants signed up for DACA status, and by all accounts they have been a productive and law-abiding cohort. Some have been downright heroic.
The problem with DACA is that it was imposed unilaterally by Obama in 2012. He claimed he had to take “action to change the law” by executive order because Congress had failed to pass a bill (the proposed DREAM Act) that would do so legislatively. At first he insisted that DACA was only a “temporary stopgap measure.” But as hundreds of thousands of so-called “Dreamers” signed up, DACA became institutionalized. Two years later, Obama tried to expand it, sheltering not only Dreamers from deportation, but their parents — a population numbering more than 4 million. When a group of states sued to block the expansion, federal courts backed them up. Obama’s action was “manifestly contrary” to existing immigration law, ruled the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and presidents cannot make immigration law by fiat.
But DACA itself remained…