On Tuesday, the Trump administration leaked out the new details of its proposal to end President Obama’s executive amnesty. The plan seems calibrated to please no one while, in the end, leaving in place the federal government’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy regarding so-called DREAMers. Here are the elements of the plan:
- The administration will stop consideration of new applications for legal status beginning today;
- Those whose current permits expire between now and March 5, 2018 can apply for a new two-year permit. They must do so before October 5;
- Some so-called DREAMers — people under the age of 16 and below the age of 31 brought into the country by parents before 2012 — will be granted new legal status. Others won’t.
- Even after March 5 — the deadline for enforcement of immigration law, according to the Trump administration — the Trump White House says it won’t start deporting DREAMers in serious numbers, but will continue to follow the Obama administration’s focus on “criminals.”
Two things are clear from this plan. First, Trump has no serious intention of deporting DREAMers. Instead, he wants to use DACA as a bargaining chip to get the Trump wall funded. Second, Trump isn’t likely to get what he wants, because he’s bluffing about enforcement of immigration law. Democrats know it, Republicans know it, the media know it. But that won’t stop the media and Democrats from playing Trump’s revocation of DACA as a cruel first step in the deportation of millions, and Republicans from shying away from Trump’s policy in response.
So the plan will please no one.
Those who opposed DACA did so for two reasons. First, some opposed DACA because of the manner in which it was implemented — it was illegally created by the executive branch under the false standard of prosecutorial discretion. Second, many opposed DACA because they want the so-called DREAMers deported. Trump’s move here may take care of the first rationale, but not the second — and it was the second rationale that animated the Republican base, not the first. Those who want to see immigration law implemented won’t, and that will anger them: Trump is already promising not to implement immigration law in six months. That means this whole strategy is designed as a bluff to get Congress to legitimize DACA, and throw in funding for the wall as a sop to Trump’s immigration hawk base. In fact, as Politico is reporting, White House sources are saying Trump might leave DACA in place in six months if Congress doesn’t act.
Then there are those who love DACA. They’re looking at Trump’s policy here and seeing a restoration of confusion regarding DREAMers. They will pillory Trump as a racist and a xenophobe, even though he isn’t changing policy all that much, and is merely revoking executive overreach by Obama.
How does this play out? In all likelihood, nothing happens. Republicans are split on DACA in the first place, and Trump’s immigration enforcement threat is empty, so they feel little pressure to go along with the plan for the wall funding — they can do nothing, knowing Trump will leave the DREAMers alone anyway. Democrats have no interest in working with Trump under any circumstances, and they received a stick with which to beat Trump and Republicans for the midterms.
As Daniel Horowitz of Conservative Review says, this is essentially Trumpcare Redux: a non-repeal of a heavy-handed Democratic policy, which Trump and Republicans trumpet as a complete repeal — and then nothing gets done, because even the threat of repeal isn’t real.
The odd thing about Trump’s policy here is that he had a far easier one available, as Byron York of The Washington Examiner points out: he could have simply pulled the Obama strategy on same-sex marriage by waiting for attorney generals to sue over DACA, then refuse to defend DACA. That would have avoided this brinksmanship while ending up with the same policy. Then Trump could bargain in good faith with Congress over DACA if he wanted to, without any bluff at all; even Democrats would see that DACA wasn’t long for the world and be forced to the negotiations table.
That isn’t happening. Instead, Trump’s plan will please no one and likely end up where we started before DACA, except with Republicans bearing the political brunt just before the midterms.