Immigrants brought illegally to this country as children have received a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court, but the ruling does not absolve Congress of its responsibility to address the issue.
The Trump administration’s efforts to overturn the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were rebuffed last week in a 5-4 decision. The court did not question the administration’s authority to reverse the policy, nor did it comment on the worthiness of the program; it simply determined that the Trump administration’s failure to follow the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires a complete and adequate explanation for government action, rendered the approach unconstitutional.
In other words, the Trump administration’s incompetence and failure to follow the law was its undoing. President Trump responded on Twitter by asking, “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” Actually, justices do not like capricious and arbitrary government, and it is their job to provide checks against such action. It’s not personal; it’s strictly business.
The Obama administration established the DACA program in 2012, allowing those brought to the United States at a young age to live and work here without fear of deportation. The policy — which applies to about 700,000 “Dreamers,” including an estimated 16,000 in Washington — requires undocumented immigrants to be productive and law-abiding in order to retain their protected status.
The Trump administration overturned the policy in 2017, arguing that it was established by executive order and, therefore, could be reversed by executive order. That resulted in a court challenge that culminated last week, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion.
In performing its constitutional duty, the Supreme Court scored a victory for the rule of law and for the checks and balances that keep the federal government from teetering toward dictatorship. But it provided only a temporary respite for those who benefit from the DACA program; a long-term solution that balances compassion for “Dreamers” with enforcement of immigration laws will depend on Congress.
DACA provides no path to citizenship for those brought here illegally as children, and it remains subject to the whims of whichever administration inhabits the White House. When Trump revoked the program, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, said: “I believe we can uphold national security, protect opportunities for American citizens, and provide assurances to DACA recipients in Southwest Washington who have done nothing wrong, that we understand their plight and that they can build a future here in the only country that many of them have ever known.”
Congress, however, has failed to address those issues. “Dreamers” have grown up in this country — often with no memory of their native land — and in many cases have started families, with their children being U.S. citizens. As Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, said last week: “These young people came to our country as children due to no fault of their own, and they continue to work, learn, and enrich our communities. I strongly support delivering legal certainty to DACA recipients.”
That will require a solution that enhances national security — including stronger border protections — while avoiding the cruelty of deporting people from the only country they have ever known. For now, “Dreamers” have a temporary sense of security; it is a moral imperative for Congress to make that permanent.