Greg Harton: Action deferred, solution denied

Immigration policy belongs in Congress, not Oval Office

When it comes to President Obama's unilateral policy to protect children who were illegally brought into the United States but have now spent years here, we can find a hint as to its intended longevity in its very name: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Deferred action is a postponement, a move that assumes the delayed action will, at some point, be necessary.

In his June 15, 2012, announcement of the program, Obama had this to say: "This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure."

At the time, some Republicans went berserk, claiming the president had created an amnesty program.

And with last week's announcement that President Trump will end DACA, it was the Democrats' turn. U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California said Trump's action would "break the hearts and offend the morals of all who believe in justice and human dignity." Obama decried the decision as "cruel." Yet in the former president's statement, he said he hoped Congress will pass a bill allowing those eligible for DACA to remain in the United States, calling the situation a question of "basic decency."

So he and Trump agree: President Trump last week stressed that he's not just cutting DACA participants off, but creating a gradual process to phase the program out while giving a "window of opportunity for Congress to finally act." At the same time, Trump offered assurances that his administration's enforcement priorities won't change: "We are focused on criminals, security threats, recent border-crossers, visa overstays, and repeat violators. I have advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang."

Advocates for immigrants in the U.S. illegally know its important not to let a crisis go to waste, so there was ample display of gnashed teeth over Trump's announcement. That's not to diminish the real anxiety felt by those who have been protected by DACA, but there's was also plenty of political traction to be had through the cries for compassion and the accusations of cruelty.

Who can blame anyone for wanting certainty in their lives? We hear all time about Wall Street investors reacting negatively to this news or that, with analysts saying investors don't respond well to uncertainty. Are people who fear their lives here in the United States may be at risk any less human? Their circumstances involve more humanity and deserve to be viewed with compassion. This debate isn't about whether DACA participants include good and decent people.

Compassion, however, does not settle the question of what the United States' immigration policies should be, unless one suggests the "moral" approach is to let in everyone who wants to come here. Otherwise, immigration policy is about saying no to some and yes to others. The question for our federal government leaders is balancing compassion with national interests.

I'm convinced the 800,000 or so DACA participants are not the problem, and it seems there are Democrats and Republicans both who can agree on that. Nonetheless, is it better to have a questionable executive branch policy of non-enforcement or a legislative resolution debated and approved by Congress? If you want certainty, you don't get it from an executive order that can evaporate with one man's change of mind or a change in who holds the office.

Congress today may inspire little faith when it comes to advancing our national interests through rational debate and collaborative law-making. That does not erase the fact that immigration law falls under its responsibilities.

What I heard from the president last Tuesday wasn't an attack on these young people or even an assertion that they deserve to be drummed out of this country. Rather, the president set out a course that aligns with the powers and the limits of power within our national government. That shouldn't be dismissed in the name of compassion. Nobody -- native U.S. citizens or those who long to become citizens -- is served by dismantling the principles of good, constitutional government in pursuit of a goal.

Trump is no scholar of American government or the principles behind what the Founding Fathers created. I suspect he'd toss aside constitutional concerns, as Obama did, if they stood in the way of what he wanted. But on this matter, Trump's on the right side in terms of recognizing where the power rests -- with the Congress.

The United States cannot become a nation in which the ends justify the means.

If there is a sincere concern for these young people among Democrats and Republicans-- and there appears to be empathy for their plight -- Trump's action may what is needed to develop a more lasting, stable solution. If this is a cynical step by Trump because he anticipates failure in Congress while he gets to appear sympathetic, then the comments about cruelty would be accurate.

The so-called "Dreamers" brought as children into this nation are a prime example of individuals whose circumstances are made untenable by weak U.S. immigration policy. The United States does nobody any favors by a lack of overall enforcement and border controls, because the time will always come when the issue has to be addressed. It's at that time all these difficult situations -- families who have hidden in the shadows while their children essentially come to know the U.S. as their own nation -- come to the fore. Then the U.S. appears to lack compassion by just trying to keep its house in order.

Perhaps a strong effort to keep unauthorized people out of the country in the first place is a compassionate policy. It is the United States' fault it has 11 million people living in the country illegally. That needs to be addressed. But the real "dreamers" are the people who think the nation's immigration woes will be resolved by cracking down on those who were covered by Obama's deferred enforcement.

Commentary on 09/11/2017

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