Cooper: Dreaming beyond 'Dreamers'

Cooper: Dreaming beyond 'Dreamers'

September 6th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program rallied in front of the Federal Building in Chattanooga last month.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

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We hope President Trump's handing to Congress the program that grants work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children is different from Lucy teeing up the football and asking Charlie Brown to kick it.

Charlie Brown, after all, is the one who always gets bruised.

On the one hand, Congress is where such political footballs belong. However, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program came into being through former President Barack's Obama's 2012 executive action — one he repeatedly said he did not have the power to do — and could have been undone immediately the same way.

On the other hand, Congress hasn't had much success in cobbling together controversial legislation this year. Health care legislation stalled, and tax reform has barely gotten out of the gate.

Over the six months, the amount of time Trump has given before the program shuts down, the president can cajole and nudge Congress to act. Before yesterday's announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the president started the clock with the tweet, "Congress, get ready to do your job — DACA!"

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For six months, he can make Congress the bad guy: "The future of these wonderful children depends on you." "Time is running out to act, Congress." "I wanted to put this decision back in the hands where it belongs."

But the objective has the possibility of blowing up in Trump's face. If Congress is unable to pass legislation that covers the about 800,000 (and growing until Tuesday) people, called "Dreamers," he will be blamed.

Of course, if the young people do face deportation, hard-liners will say the president is keeping a campaign promise. On the campaign trail, Trump said he would "immediately terminate" Obama's program that allows the young people protection for renewable two-year periods and gives them a Social Security Number, a driver's license, tax benefits and various state and local government goodies but does not allow them legal status.

Sessions hit the nail on the head in his comments Tuesday about the former president's executive action that he said "was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch."

"We are a people of compassion and we are a people of law," he added. "But there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws."

The problem is it looks much worse for this group — all of whom have applied to the program and so are on file — to be sent packing than it does for their parents or other adults, who made the decision to come into the country illegally and now may be untraceable.

Fortunately and unfortunately, depending on your perspective, there are options. But they are dependent on Congress working the way Congress used to work, where both sides give up something to gain something.

Democrats, for instance, don't want to deport the Dreamers. These young people have mostly known life only in America, have gone to school here (though Tennessee legislators have failed — we think wrongly — to allow them in-state college tuition), have gotten jobs here, and often contribute to their communities. Cynically, Democrats also smell potential voters, especially if they are federal government dependent, a large constituency for the party.

Republicans have several options. They could allow the DACA program to continue in exchange for the end of birthright citizenship, in exchange for adoption of the RAISE Act (or other already introduced immigration-related bills) or in exchange for building Trump's Southern border wall.

Legal experts have said the 14th Amendment to the Constitution — part of which says, "All persons born ... in the United States ... are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." — could be tweaked to end birthright citizenship and not have to be subject to the two-thirds vote necessary to change the Constitution itself.

The U.S. and Canada, according to the International Monetary Fund, are the only developed nations to retain birthright citizenship. The United Kingdom, France, India and Australia, among others, have ended the practice since 1983. It even was once introduced in Congress by former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The RAISE Act, proposed by U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., and endorsed by Trump, would put in place a merit-based system of immigration similar to one currently employed by Australia. It would slow the legal "chain migration" method of immigrants bringing other family members into the country.

The wall, of course, was a popular Trump proposal during the 2016 campaign and one he still believes is necessary, even though the enforcement of current laws and strict patrolling of the Southern border already have curtailed illegal immigration.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other members of Congress had counseled against an outright ending of the DACA program and, instead, pushed for a delay. The president, though, was facing a deadline of Sept. 5, when an original group of 10 state attorneys general had planned to sue the administration to end the DACA program. Now, Congress has a mandate and a timeline.

We want to believe some honest bargaining could produce a win for both parties. Indeed, we are dreamers, too.

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