The fate of 660,000 immigrant youths known as “Dreamers” now rests in the Supreme Court’s hands. Justices can do right by those youths by sustaining their protection from deportation and overriding President Donald Trump’s executive authority. But doing so would risk negating the very executive authority that protected the youths from deportation in the first place.
That’s an unenviable spot, especially for a conservative court majority loath to encroach on Executive Branch authority. The decision hinges on the 2012 memorandum by President Barack Obama to protect the youth from deportation under his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Trump declared in 2017 that he would end it, but lower courts have stopped him from doing so, mainly because Trump’s own pronouncements have worked to undermine his case.
A more compassionate president would never have pressed the quest for mass deportation to the point that Supreme Court intervention was necessary. But Trump and compassion parted ways long ago. He has separated more than a thousand immigrant children from their parents, housed families in squalid detention facilities and promised supporters that he would summarily deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country.
By contrast, Obama launched DACA after Democrats and Republicans in Congress failed repeatedly to come up with an immigration reform package that acknowledged the precarious position faced by youths brought here as children by their parents. Many have never known another country. Obama’s action effectively protected them from wanton acts of deportation cruelty.
Upon taking office, Trump nullified DACA provisions as “illegal executive amnesties.” Had he simply announced his decision as an executive policy decision, his order probably would have been safe from court challenge. But calling Obama’s action “illegal” forced Justice Department lawyers to prove what law, exactly, Obama had violated. They couldn’t, which is why the case has been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
As if to justify mass deportations and encourage justices to side with him, Trump tweeted this week: “Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels.’ Some are very tough, hardened criminals.” That’s strange. In January 2017, he stated that DACA recipients shouldn’t worry because he had a “big heart.” A month later, he stated: “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me. Because, you know, I love these kids. ... I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and, you know, the law is rough. It’s rough, very, very rough.”
For the record, hardened criminals never qualified for DACA protection. Many “Dreamers” are military veterans, college graduates, volunteers and hardworking individuals who display all the attributes of the patriots who made America great. Protecting them from deportation was never “illegal,” which is why Trump’s contorted rationale merits a firm Supreme Court rejection.