DACA has nothing to do with heart, everything to do with rule of law
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According to reports, President Trump plans to put an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order put in place by the Obama administration in 2012.

The order, which grants deferred deportation, work permits, Social Security cards and a driver’s license to over one million illegal immigrants who arrived as minors, has been controversial from the start due to its dubious legal origins.

And therein lies the rub with DACA. Immigration advocates and protesters would have you believe this is a simple question of heart, of kindness, of the American immigration origin story. But it isn’t.

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At its center, the question of DACA is one of dry legality: is it legal for a president to create legislative authority out of thin air, to decide which laws to enforce and which ones to let slide, or is it not?

 

Ironically, there is no one more knowledgeable on this point than President Obama himself, a former constitutional law professor who, a year before he unilaterally re-wrote immigration law, had this to say about it:

With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order that’s just not the case … There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.

By Obama’s own standards, DACA does not stand withstand legal scrutiny. This also explains why even White House staff who support leaving DACA in place could not ultimately provide a legal justification for urging Trump to do so.

That this question would bind two consecutive administrations is obvious, because the action itself is so clearly outside the scope of the executive. The Constitution plainly assigns the role of lawmaker to Congress. The executive is tasked with enforcing that law. It is not the other way around.

One can imagine the hysteria it would cause if Trump decided to unilaterally stop enforcing tax penalties against corporations or the very rich. Yet, this is a precisely parallel analogy to what President Obama has done with DACA. 

The fact that so many feel such extreme action by the executive is necessary, however, speaks to a larger truth about the broken state of the country’s immigration system. 

There’s a reason 11 million immigrants are living in the US illegally, in part because our legal immigration system faces long wait times, ancient and irrelevant quotas, and, in many cases, subjective bureaucratic decision making. Our immigration system has long since stopped serving the broad needs of immigrant populations or those of natural born citizens.

The system needs to be remedied — this is without dispute. The answer to this, however, is not for a unilateral fix-it by the executive. The answer is for Congress to act.

On Thursday, Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) announced he intends to force a vote to legalize DACA.

Whether one agrees with Coffman’s efforts or not — and there much to disagree with in making DACA permanent — the point of congressional action is well taken. It is up to Congress, to the people’s representatives, to decide what should happen next.

The question of immigration, particularly when it involves children, is always fraught with emotion. But the emotion and intensity of the debate cannot and should not overshadow the fundamental nature of the law itself.

Though it may seem expedient to have the president render the laws of his choosing as moot, supporters of executive action on DACA should consider the warning from Thomas Jefferson when he said, “a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything you have.” The wisdom of the founders in this regard is bigger than a question of taking sides, and President Trump is right to realize this.

DACA isn’t a matter of having a “great heart” (though the sentiment is commendable). Rather, it’s a question of whether the executive will respect the rule of law, and allow Congress — and, ultimately, the people — to work its will.

Rachel Bovard (@Rachel_Bovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.