Last month, advocates for the approximately 780,000 beneficiaries of Barack Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative aimed at protecting Dreamers (young people whose parents brought them into the country illegally, but who have kept their own noses clean) breathed a sigh of relief. On the fifth anniversary of DACA, the Trump administration officially killed expanded protections for the parents of Dreamers (known as DAPA), which a federal judge had already suspended — but did not eliminate DACA itself, as the president promised to do during his 2016 campaign. The administration made it clear at the time that it was only leaving DACA untouched temporarily. And now fears are returning that death for DACA could be part of a planned autumn immigration offensive by Trump and his congressional GOP allies.
And so: Trump and his advisers might well decide that if DACA is going to end anyway, the president rather than some obscure judge should get the credit. And just as important, the threatened lawsuit puts the ball squarely in the court of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an immigration hardliner whose former staffer and protégé, Stephen Miller, is the anti-immigration point man in the White House.
As Dara Lind of Vox explains, what’s dimming prospects for DACA is a threat from ten Republican attorneys general to sue to shut down the initiative on constitutional grounds if Trump doesn’t shut it down first. And for exotic legal reasons, their suit would likely be heard by the self-same Texas federal district court judge, Andrew Hanen, who put the kibosh on DAPA in 2014.
If the administration kills DACA or Judge Hanen effectively freezes it, the Dreamers could become pawns in a battle over immigration policy brewing in Congress, as Lind notes:
[I]f nearly 800,000 people are suddenly forced out of their jobs and faced with the threat of deportation at any time, supporters of legalization are likely to start pushing hard for Congress to take action.
The question is what they’ll accept in return.
Some conservatives, whether openly or behind closed doors, admit that they’re willing to accept a compromise that results in DACA recipients getting to stay in the US. (After all, they’re US-educated and fluent in English; for people worried about immigrants as threats to cultural integration, DACA recipients are not the most imminent threat.) But they want something in return: expanded immigration enforcement to target new arrivals and unauthorized immigrants living in the US, cuts to legal immigration in the future, or both.
Any way you slice it, unless Congress rejects the Trump administration’s policies altogether, there could be a lot of deportations on the horizon. Even if they had the inclination to come to the rescue of the soon-to-be-deported, it’s doubtful it would be a high priority for the Republicans running the House and Senate. As a result, many undocumented Americans and the businesses and communities that depend on them will be appropriately nervous for the immediate future. And for those who favor a policy of “self-deportation” — making life so miserable for the undocumented that they leave, sparing Uncle Sam the cost and political embarrassment of herding families into camps and across the borders — that’s just fine.