In the next few days — maybe today, maybe not — President Trump will announce a decision determining the future of DACA, the program that allows 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to live and work in the country free from the threat of deportation.
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was an Obama-era initiative that was fairly uncontroversial when first enacted in 2012. DACA does not confer legal status on the immigrants it covers or provide a path to citizenship (doing so would require congressional action) but it does allow recipients to obtain identification that lets them go about their lives, such as a driver’s license. Most importantly, it ensures they won’t be detained and shipped outside of the U.S. to a country they may not even remember.
The Arkansas United Community Coalition says 10,000 youth and young adults living in Arkansas may be benefiting from the program today. I spoke to some of them last spring when a group organized by AUCC traveled to Washington to rally for an extension of DACA. Among them was Cruz Segura, who was brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was 7 and lived most of his life in Hot Springs. Segura attended Hot Springs High and the Arkansas School for Math, Sciences and the Arts, then graduated from the UCA Honor’s College with a bachelor’s degree in physics. At the time, he described to me how DACA bettered his life:
It took a lot of that worry away. I have a driver’s license now — before DACA, I didn’t have state ID or a license. … And I applied for work authorization and got it. … Through DACA, I have been able to get employed.
For details on the program and what’s at stake, read this comprehensive explainer from Vox’s Dara Lind. Those pushing for an end to DACA argue that stripping ID and livelihoods away from hundreds of thousands of young people who’ve grown up in the U.S. is a necessary if regrettable price to pay for enforcing immigration laws.
Given Trump’s tough talk on immigration, it might seem self-evident he’d end the program as soon as possible, but he’s wavered on the issue since the 2016 campaign ended. The young people who benefit from the program are sympathetic: To be eligible, one must have arrived in the U.S. at age 15 or younger, have a clean criminal record, and either be enrolled in high school or have a diploma or GED. Polls indicate most Americans favor the program.
But a group of ten state attorneys general — among them, Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge — have threatened to sue the Trump administration if it doesn’t end DACA, on the grounds that the program oversteps executive branch authority. Because the case would land before a federal judge who ruled against a similar program created by President Obama, it would likely succeed. The letter, sent by Texas AG Ken Paxton, gave the White House until September 5 to act before proceeding with the suit.
Immigration is Trump’s signature issue, so the threat places him in a politically sensitive spot and raises again that evergreen question: Is there anything the president can do to disenchant his base? As long as it involves raucous conflict with the press, the left or the institutions of government, I think the answer is “no.” Ducking an opportunity to institute harsher immigration policy may be different, though. That would be directly contrary to both Trump’s supposed core beliefs and his swaggering persona. Even if he’s not eager to end DACA, Trump likely senses the political risk involved — and the president has shown himself quick to cave to any pressure from the right.
Still, as Cristian Farias argues in New York magazine, the Sept. 5 deadline is entirely artificial:
Nothing about Paxton’s missive is enforceable, which is to say Trump and his lawyers have no legal obligation to do anything with it. And yet somehow the letter has taken on a life of its own, worrying Dreamers — as DACA beneficiaries are known — and showing up in hundreds of articles and editorials lamenting the president’s predicament on the program’s future. As if somehow he is between a rock and a hard place and has no choice but to end DACA. God forbid Texas make good on his threat and sue a friendly administration.
This is a false choice. Texas’s threat lacks merit, is internally inconsistent, and there’s little evidence that it was dreamed up for any other reason than political grandstanding. If Trump is the grand negotiator that he claims he is, he would be well advised to ignore it.
If DACA is indeed doomed, the question then becomes how the White House would unravel the program — all at once, or through a slow phase-out. Probably the latter, Dara Lind writes: