President Trump will play a clever hand this week when he announces the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That program, introduced by former President Barack Obama's executive order, suspends the deportation of around 800,000 illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Yet Trump's decision is clever not simply because he promised this action as a candidate, but because it is moral. Securing the border and enforcing the nation's immigration laws does not require punishing those who did no wrong. Correspondingly, Trump will maintain DACA's applicability for six months so that Congress can introduce replacement legislation. That choice reflects Trump's awareness that the DACA issue is morally and politically complex. And I hope it reflects Trump's deeper understanding that a just and durable resolution to DACA is one that offers legal residency in return for back taxes and other obligations.
Crucially, however, Trump is leaving it up to Congress to affirm the contours of that resolution. He recognizes, as Obama did not, that the whims of a president are a decrepit legislative partner to the rights of Congress. And it's important that we remember this fact as the media reports on Tuesday's events. After all, Trump's decision will be portrayed as immoral, capricious, and narrowly populist.
It is not and need not be any of these things.
By giving Congress six months to find a replacement law, Trump is returning power to where it belongs, to the authority the Constitution sets in charge of making laws on naturalization. But in return for Democratic congressional support for securing the border, Trump should call for a DACA replacement law that allows relevant recipients to remain in America to pursue better futures. If he takes this approach, Trump will insulate conservative members of the Republican caucus to vote for such a bill without facing huge blowback in next year's midterm elections. Again, Trump's hard-line credentials on immigration law mean that he is the perfect messenger for a compromise here — a replacement law that lives up to both moral and constitutional standards.
Again, however, we must remember that there is a broader constitutional issue at play here. Whatever the rights and wrongs of DACA, American governance rests on the proper allocation and application of vested powers. As a former constitutional law professor, Obama should have respected congressional rights to decide immigration laws. That he did not says much about his autocratic impulses. Trump should not be criticized for returning power to the representatives of the people.
Ultimately, even as he is wrong not to announce this decision himself, Trump's action today is positive. It respects the rule of law in source and in practice, and it gives time to forge a just resolution to an important morally concern.