Democrats' DACA Dishonesty
Fulfilling his role as the titular head of “The Resistance,” Barack Obama took to Facebook Tuesday to snipe at the Trump administration’s announcement that it was rescinding the 44th president’s 2012 executive action called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“We shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own,” Obama said. His post was florid and self-serving. But five words in his lengthy screed —“through no fault of their own” -- are undeniably true.
It’s not the fault of the “dreamers” that their parents brought them here, without papers, as minors. On that we can agree. But whose fault is it that they are still in limbo? For that answer, Obama needn’t take to social media. He can simply look in the mirror.
Ten years ago, a narrow consensus was forged in Washington, if only briefly. Its architects were Edward Kennedy and John McCain. Their carefully crafted legislation created a new temporary work visa, established an electronic data base for employers to check employees’ work status, and earmarked money for border enforcement. It also provided a path to citizenship for an estimated 11.6 million illegal immigrants, provided they paid a fine and back taxes, met English and civics requirements, and stayed on the right side of the law.
President George W. Bush signaled his support. But the vote was going to be close, which Kennedy and McCain knew. Conservatives dismissed the path-to-citizenship as a fig leaf for amnesty. Organized labor hated the guest-worker program, known as Y-1. McCain and Kennedy could have overcome that opposition, albeit narrowly, except for one last little group of senators. Call it the Senate Presidential Wannabe Caucus. Its membership included Illinois freshman Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. That’s only two votes, but it was enough.
On June 6, 2007, Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, introduced an innocuous-sounding rider to the McCain-Kennedy bill. Its official description was “an amendment to sunset the Y-1 non-immigrant visa program after a 5-year period.” As everyone in the Senate understood, this was a “poison pill” designed not to shore up the bill, but sink it. Dorgan got his way, too. The amendment passed 49-48, essentially killing comprehensive immigration reform.
Kennedy was incensed. He’d implored Dorgan and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid not to do it. McCain felt particularly sandbagged by Obama, who’d inserted himself into the legislative negotiations uninvited, wrangled a concession he wanted, then voted with Dorgan. McCain assumed Obama didn’t want George W. Bush or himself -- the man Obama expected to face in 2008 -- to get credit for immigration reform. Ted Kennedy, who ended up endorsing Obama over Clinton anyway, believed this, too.
Kennedy died in 2009 before he could convince Obama to revisit this issue. It wouldn’t have mattered. The GOP was becoming more nativist, the Democrats more cynical. The chance for a legislative solution had come and gone.
But what about a non-legislative solution? This turned out to be President Obama’s specialty, the niceties of constitutional democracy be damned. In June 2012, with shifting public opinion polls now in his favor, Obama issued DACA, which he called “a temporary, stopgap measure” to curb the practice of deporting undocumented Americans brought to this country before their 16th birthday.
Was this constitutional? It might have been, had the president announced that because his Justice Department lacked the personnel to adequately adjudicate 11 million cases, it was necessary to prioritize law enforcement’s areas of emphasis and that, henceforth, no federal government resources would be spent on deporting the “Dreamers.” Wink. Wink.
But that’s not what Obama did. He announced a formal new government program granting work permits to those without papers. This “temporary, stopgap” measure superseded existing federal immigration law and, two years later, Obama sought to expand DACA, prompting a legal challenge from several states. Was the president on shaky constitutional ground? One assumes so, if for no other reason than Obama repeatedly said so himself – and he did it in precise and colorful language.
On Cinco de Mayo in 2010, he said, “Anybody who tells you … that I can wave a magic wand and make it happen hasn't been paying attention to how this town works.”
“I am president, I am not king,” he said that October. “I can't do these things just by myself.”
“I know some here wish that I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself. But that’s not how democracy works,” he said in April 2011.
“I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books,” he added in July 2011. “… Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting … but that's not how our system works. That's not how our Constitution is written.”
Later, he had the temerity to claim he hadn’t changed his stance, a howler that blew the minds of media fact-checkers.
So that’s the backstory to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Tuesday announcement that the administration will rescind DACA because it’s unconstitutional. Trump has not spoken against DACA itself; moreover, he sent out a tweet reassuring “Dreamers” that they have nothing to worry about for six months. This gambit suggests that Trump wants DACA codified into law, apparently as part of a comprehensive package.
Instead of responding to this overture in a spirit of compromise, Democrats chose vitriol and name-calling, their default position in the Trump era. Luis Gutiérrez, an Illinois congressman, called White House Chief of Staff John Kelly a “disgrace to the uniform he used to wear” over DACA. Remember last summer when every Democrat and most of the media went medieval on Trump for picking a fight with a Gold Star family? Well, John Kelly is a Gold Star dad, too. Luis Gutiérrez never wore the uniform.
For sheer demagoguery, it was hard to top Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton’s erstwhile rival had this to say: “Trump’s decision on DACA is the ugliest and most cruel decision ever made by a president of the U.S. in the modern history of this country.”
When one considers Woodrow Wilson re-segregating the federal workforce or FDR interning 110,000 Japanese-Americans who committed no crime, the thought occurs that this is possibly the most ignorant utterance by a U.S. senator in the modern history of this country.
But historic amnesia was the Democrats’ de facto strategy and, in the interest of efficiency, they used the same talking points. “Trump is clueless & cruel,” tweeted former California Sen. Barbara Boxer. “Above all he is a coward.”
Nancy Pelosi described it as “cowardice” and “cruelty.” Chuck Schumer called it “heartless.”
And so it went. One wonders if this was DNC-circulated messaging, drawn up by some 24-year-old staffer. Someone apparently too callow to know that today’s Democrats are a historic anomaly. Normally Congress likes it when a president respects their prerogative to make law.
Or perhaps these talking points weren’t written by a millennial. Perhaps they were written by a certain ex-president trying to help us forget that when he and Hillary Clinton -- along with Barbara Boxer, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Bernie Sanders -- had the chance to grant 11 million immigrants access to the American Dream, they instead chose, for partisan purposes, to keep them in the shadows.