Ironically, American presidents sometimes have extra freedom to do the opposite of what they made their name talking about. For that reason, President Trump might – emphasize “might” – be the best thing that could have happened for those DACA kids to gain legal status or even citizenship.
The two most obvious examples of this dynamic are Presidents Nixon and Reagan. Nixon was a fervent anti-communist, but he was the one who opened the doors to a relationship with communist China. Reagan was the Cold Warrior who increased defense spending, called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire” and told Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Then he negotiated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Gorbachev, destroying 2,692 missiles between the two sides.
Nixon and Reagan were able to do these things because no one could doubt their intentions. Nixon could befriend the Chinese because everyone knew he wasn’t soft on communism. Same for Reagan and the Russians. Can you imagine a “make love, not war” president trying to sell the INF Treaty to Congress and the American people?
An ‘anti-illegal immigrationist’
Trump was elected after promising to deport illegal immigrants and build a wall paid for by Mexico. He is as much associated with being an anti-illegal immigrationist as Reagan and Nixon were as anti-communists.
After Trump’s inauguration, he made it clear illegal immigration would be more than a campaign issue. Among his first acts was signing an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security director to start the process of building the wall. Meanwhile, he directed that all illegal immigrants be subject to deportation rather than only those who had committed crimes, as had been the case under President Obama.
Dreamers not a top priority
But Trump did nothing about the 800,000 young “Dreamers” brought illegally to the United States as children who were protected under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It was only after being sued by nine state attorneys general, including Arkansas’ Leslie Rutledge, that he announced DACA would end in six months and urged Congress to pass legislation. Had that lawsuit proceeded, Trump’s administration would have had to defend DACA in court, and would have probably lost. He has been talking with Democrats about the issue, and he indicated through tweets that he does not want to deport the Dreamers and will revisit DACA if Congress fails to act.
Clearly, deporting the Dreamers is not Trump’s top priority, and he may have a soft spot for them, like many other Republican elected officials including in Arkansas. Either way, he may be able to do what Obama could not do – fix the problem and give them permanent residency or even citizenship. That fix might require a deal that includes a significant investment in the wall. But that’s politics.
DACA was at best a stopgap measure. Obama created it via executive order after earlier saying he didn’t have the constitutional authority to do such a thing. He called the program “temporary” at the time. Indeed, the first words of its name, “Deferred Action,” indicate it’s not a permanent solution. Moreover, it only gave the Dreamers some measure of assurance they wouldn’t be deported. They would never be legal, let alone citizens.
Better than DACA
We need something better. It might be that just as Nixon, the anti-communist, opened the doors to a communist country, and Reagan, the Cold Warrior, shook hands with the Russians on a treaty reducing nuclear weapons, that Trump, the wall builder, might be the president for this issue.
Those are big ifs. Congress lately can’t decide which pizzas to order in six months’ time, much less tackle this kind of emotional issue. Only 15 percent of respondents told a Morning Consult-Politico poll that the Dreamers should be deported, but those folks are Trump’s base, and he can’t ignore them. And Trump’s political leanings have proven to be, well, flexible.
So the future is uncertain, and for the moment the Dreamers are in limbo. But on the bright side, an unconstitutional but well-meaning executive order could be replaced with a permanent law that does more than DACA ever could. And the one to do it may be the last president you’d expect given his campaign rhetoric.
Lots of irony in politics sometimes.
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.