Groups that want a tougher approach to illegal immigration are worried that President Donald Trump will renege on one of his signature policy promises: ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive amnesty program.
During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed to “immediately terminate” the DACA program, which former President Barack Obama created in 2012 to give illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors a two-year period of deferred action on deportation and access to work permits.
Five months into his presidency, Trump has not moved to cancel DACA protections, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced earlier in June the policies would remain in place for an indefinite period of time. That inaction has convinced many immigration groups that the Trump administration has no intention of eliminating the program.
“If the president had decided to end DACA, it would have happened. I don’t know what they are waiting for. He promised to end DACA,” Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, told the Washington Examiner.
“Once you say something is illegal and unconstitutional, you can’t just keep doing it” she said.
As a candidate, Trump ripped DACA as an illegal “amnesty” and said he would discontinue the program. To the dismay of immigration hawks, the president has since softened his rhetoric on DACA recipients — commonly known as ‘Dreamers’ — and DHS continues to process DACA applications as it had under the Obama administration.
Immigration authorities granted 107,524 DACA renewals and processed 17,275 new applications from January to March, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. About 70 percent of those cases were approved under Trump’s watch.
Organizations such as Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) see the continuation of DACA as a betrayal of the administration’s promises to crack down on illegal immigration. FAIR president Dan Stein told The Daily Caller editor-in-chief Vince Coglianese that Trump’s lack of action on the issue is a “complete flip flop” that preserves the Obama administration’s amnesty for illegal aliens. (RELATED: Key Immigration Hawk: Trump Admin Is Following Obama’s Position On Amnesty)
The administration did follow through with its promise to end the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, which would have allowed as many as five million illegal aliens with children who are citizens or lawful permanent residents to remain in the U.S. if they fulfilled certain criteria. But many groups saw it as a hollow victory because DAPA had already been blocked by the federal courts and had little chance of overcoming a legal challenge from 26 states.
Ending DACA is the bigger priority for immigration skeptics, says Jenks.
“I certainly am very happy that Secretary Kelly ended DAPA … that is a good thing and needed to happen, but it does not fulfill Trump’s campaign promise. DACA needs to be ended,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
“It is clear the decision on DACA has been made at the White House,” Jenks added. “That is truly on Trump, and he needs to do it.”
For some immigration hawks, Trump’s inaction on DACA is especially frustrating because the administration could use the program as leverage to pry concessions on immigration policy from Congressional Democrats. Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center For Immigration Studies (CIS), says that Trump is missing an opportunity to further his immigration agenda by not threatening to end DACA.
“I knew he [Trump] was going to sell us out on some things,” he told The Atlantic. “I just didn’t think DACA was going to be what he sells us out on.”
If the Trump administration won’t unilaterally cancel DACA, Krikorian says, it should prod lawmakers to deliver a compromise that legalizes DACA recipients in exchange for long-term policy fixes such as workplace enforcement, caps on guest worker visas, and reduced levels of legal immigration. DHS Secretary John Kelly has also argued in favor of a legislative solution to the DACA problem, calling on Congress to pass a law that would clarify the status instead of “beating up” on DHS for following existing immigration law.
While Krikorian would prefer to see Trump use his own executive authority to pull the plug on DACA, he thinks the program could be useful if Trump were willing to use it as a bargaining chip.
“Though I was initially skeptical, it might even make sense to try to trade a real, lawful amnesty for the DACAs in exchange for important immigration changes only Congress can pass – specifically, universal E-Verify and cuts in legal immigration,” Krikorian wrote in a blog post. “In that case, announcing that renewals would continue until, say, the end of the year could be a powerful motivator for congressional Democrats.”
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