DACA: Administration’s hard line scuttles hopes for bipartisan solution

When President Trump spoke last September about his decision to rescind DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he stated that he had great sympathy (and even “love”) for these young adults (the so-called Dreamers), and urged Congress to get a deal done that would provide them with a path to stay in the U.S. permanently.

That was then.  On January 12, 2018, when presented with a bipartisan proposal to help the Dreamers, President Trump rejected the deal.

And this week, with debate on DACA underway on the Senate floor, and following countless hours spent by bipartisan groups of legislators to reach good faith compromises to allow for legalization of DACA/Dreamers, President Trump announced that he would veto any bill not incorporating his “four pillars”.  He then endorsed a 592 page bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley that went far beyond the scope of DACA and border security,  proposing arguably the most fundamental change in the values of U.S. immigration policy since 1924, when Congress imposed race-based national origins immigration quotas.

On February 15, 2018, the Senate voted on four immigration proposals. All of the proposals failed, including the bipartisan  Immigration Security and Opportunity Act (S.A. 1958) and the bipartisan  USA Act of 2018 (S.A. 1955), both of which were narrowly tailored to address DACA/Dreamers and border security.   MeBIC supported both of these measures, which had elements that both sides could like and hate, but at least were thoughtful compromises.  Of the four items voted on, S.A.1958,  sponsored by Senator Angus King and co-sponsored by Senator Susan Collins, gained the most votes in favor (54-45).  The Adminstration-backed Grassley bill received the least votes, suffering defeat  by 60-39.

The Senate will be on recess next week, while March 5, 2018, the last date of the DACA program (absent Court rulings blocking the rescission), looms.   When the Senate returns to work, it is imperative that they continue to make crafting a permanent solution for the Dreamers a top priority.

There is little doubt that President Trump’s veto threat influenced the outcome of this week’s debate.  Holding the nearly 800,000 DACA holders who are already integral members of our communities and the country’s economy hostage in order to achieve a massive overhaul of the U.S. immigration system is unconscionable from a humane perspective, and unwise from an economic one.   Any massive immigration overhaul should be the result of careful thought and a deliberative process, with hearings and input from a wide range of experts.   The 60 Senators who voted against the Administration-backed Grassley bill apparently agreed.

We can only hope that President Trump will revert to his earlier willingness to sign any bill that resolves the status of the DACA/Dreamers that gains bipartisan support, and will allow other immigration issues to be tackled at a later date.