Donald Trump’s decision earlier this week to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, will have long-lasting repercussions. DACA protected some people who were illegally brought to the United States while they were children from deportation. It’s a program that should continue.
But we also see some truth in the contention from Trump and some Republicans that DACA was an overreach of presidential power. Former President Barack Obama created it as an executive order, and there is a reasonable argument to be made that it was an impingement on Congress’ sole authority to legislate.
People protected by DACA, also referred to as Dreamers, had no real say in whether they were brought up in the United States. No child has much of a say in where parents choose to live. And it seems indefensibly cruel to punish children by exiling them for the acts of their parents. Corruption of the blood is, after all, prohibited by the Constitution itself.
For those who say such a step will protect American jobs, we would point out that there is far more likelihood of jobs being lost to automation than to these people. A majority are already legally in the workforce. And technology has proven to be a much more effective disruptor of the workplace than immigration over the past several decades.
The debate over DACA exposes a deeper problem. It was created by congressional paralysis. Congress has earned a reputation for being chronically unable to address issues, and the current body seems intent on taking that reputation to new lows.
Obama was correct in saying congress had failed to act on this issue. But we remain unconvinced that an executive order of dubious legality was the proper solution. When a president declares an unwillingness to uphold the law, whether through signing statements, executive orders, or tweets, those declarations carry more than a whiff of absolutism. They speak to a desire to rule by decree, not consent.
That habit, which has become more and more pronounced in recent administrations, is fundamentally dangerous. The presidency was never intended as an office that could unilaterally set the nation’s course. The Constitutional power to negotiate treaties is limited by the need for approval from the U.S. Senate. And the president has no power whatsoever over legislation except for the use of the veto.
Executive orders aren’t even a particularly effective way to ensure a legacy. Those orders can be swept away at the stroke of a pen by a successor. They are houses built atop sand.
What the country needs is not a president with dictatorial powers, real or imagined. It is not a congress stalled by backbiting and finger-pointing. It is not order and counter-order, back and forth and leaving millions in limbo. We need a working congress and a working president.
Some Republicans have spoken against the end of DACA. Fine. You have six months based on the timeline laid out by Trump. Get together and pass legislation to ensure it continues.
Work with members of your own party. Work with — gasp — the other party if need be. Set aside your egos, quit grandstanding and do your jobs. Lead. Inspire. The same goes for congressional Democrats. Gloating or sub rosa attempts to sabotage workable legislation will look no better than overt obstinance.
This is a clear test for this congress. Either words lead to action or its members admit they are helpless in the grip of their own fear of each other and for their fellow Americans. It is one congress cannot afford to fail.