Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, DACA edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He rescinded the DACA program, taking almost every possible position on the subject before doing so (and after).

On Tuesday, Trump formally ordered the beginning of the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era policy that allowed undocumented Americans brought into the country as children to get work permits and a limited degree of protection from deportation. That moment marked just one of a wide variety of positions he has taken on the subject, including several in this past week. What follows is a partial list of some of the confusion Trump suffered from on the issue recently.

He opposed it during the campaign... Trump's position on the subject during the campaign had the virtue of clarity: he was against it. His campaign kickoff speech addressed it directly: "I will immediately terminate President Obama's illegal executive order on immigration, immediately," he said in July of 2015, and never wavered from that position during the campaign.

...and declared "We're going to work something out" after being elected. His position immediately after being elected was equally unambiguous--in the other direction. "I want Dreamers for our children also," he told Time. "We’re going to work something out. On a humanitarian basis it’s a very tough situation. We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud. But that’s a very tough situation."

Obama's program was an "illegal amnesty..." Before taking office, Trump referred to the program as an "illegal amnesty." It isn't an amnesty, and most constitutional scholars believe it is a legal extension of the president's authority to set priorities for law enforcement--but the thrust of Trump's argument seems to have been that he should not be allowed to have that kind of discretion.

...which he may extend. Almost immediately after issuing his order, Trump tweeted that if no legislative solution arose in the next six months, he would "revisit" the matter. Since Trump is on record as saying that anything short of a law would be unconstitutional, it's not clear under what authority he would "revisit" anything. Repeated attempts by reporters to get clarification from the White House yielded little new information, but even as Trump signed the orders, members of his administration told the New York Times they were afraid he "might not fully grasp the details" of what he was doing.

He has "love" and "heart..." In damage-control mode after the announcement, Trump's language towards DREAMers abruptly warmed. "I have a great heart for the folks we're talking about, a great love for them... I have a love for these people and hopefully, now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly."

...for "rapists" and "drug dealers" and gang members. That stood in contrast to Trump's usual language on undocumented immigrants, who he usually paints as violent criminals. (In a nod to continuity, at the same time that Trump was expressing his "great heart" for DREAMers, he also added that "In some of the cases they're having DACA and they're gang members and they're drug dealers too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids. I would say mostly." In fact, membership in a criminal gang or a felony conviction would have ended DACA eligibility.)

He was forced to act by a pending lawsuit... Trump cited a pending lawsuit against the program as a reason why he was forced to rescind it. There was in fact such a lawsuit, although it lost one of its members to a change of heart on humanitarian grounds right before Trump's action. Nine states had agreed to challenge DACA.

...and was free to act in spite of a pending lawsuit. Within a few days of Trump's revised order, fifteen states and the District of Columbia had sued to force Trump to rescind it. The White House did not offer any comment on why avoiding one lawsuit was more urgent than avoiding the other, or at what point Trump became lawsuit-averse.

It is "unconstitutional" not to act. Trump delegated the announcement of the policy to Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, who called DACA an "unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch."

..and he will not act. The official talking points memo makes clear that "Individuals who will no longer have DACA will not proactively be referred to ICE and placed in removal proceedings unless they satisfy one of the Department’s enforcement priorities."

He has "no second thoughts..." The day after signing the order, Trump declared that he had "no second thoughts."

...and wanted a "way out." The day before signing the order, Trump was canvassing his aides asking for a "way out" of what he now perceived as a political dilemma.

Why are these things a problem?

  • It's bad if a president takes literally every conceivable position on a major policy issue in the same week he enacts it.