Some things in life are predictable: The rising of the sun in the east, the Cleveland Browns stinking, and Barack Obama making tendentious, ideological, self-serving arguments under the guise of detached thoughtfulness. After leaking that he would have no choice but to "speak out" on DACA if the new administration canceled his unilateral policy (because it supposedly pains Obama greatly to involve himself in our national debates these days, or something), Obama followed through on the threat in a lengthy Facebook post. Much of what he wrote about DREAMers was stirring and, in my view correct:
This is about young people who grew up in America – kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants. They may not know a country besides ours. They may not even know a language besides English. They often have no idea they’re undocumented until they apply for a job, or college, or a driver’s license... Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us.
They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages...What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far. That’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.
Although I must point out the technicality that laws also "make us American," I share most of these sentiments. The trouble with Obama's essay are the other bits, in which he grossly mischaracterizes his own DACA overreach, shades history to absolve himself and his party of DREAMers' current predicament, and accuses Trump of "cruelty" for adhering to the constitution:
(1) "We [implemented DACA] based on the well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion." Ah, but DACA, and subsequently DAPA, extended far beyond traditional enforcement discretion, and he knows it. Those acts (the latter of which was struck down by federal courts) didn't merely entail formalizing a process by which law-abiding DREAMers were placed at the very bottom of the priority list for potential deportation; they also granted work permits to entire classes of people. That's a deliberate, proactive government action that involved the conferral of legal benefinathan turleynathanturleyts, and was not just targeted enforcement shifts or adjusted resource allocation. It therefore fell well beyond the scope of "prosecutorial discretion." Obama writes that the Trump administration's act was about politics, not legality. That's patently false. Even left-of-center figures have acknowledged that DACA rested on "shaky" legal ground (Dianne Feinstein) or represented an abuse of executive authority (Jonathan Turley). Indeed, Obama himself pre-confirmed those indictments a little over a year before he signed DACA anyway:
(2) "For years while I was President, I asked Congress to send me such a bill. That bill never came." It's true that Obama started to embrace and highlight this issue a few years into his presidency -- after Republicans won back the House, and finally making his move on DACA months before the 2012 election. What he hopes the media won't mention too loudly is that he and his party held overwhelming majorities for two years early in his presidency, over which period they could have passed virtually anything they wanted. Harry Reid had 59 or 60 Senate votes to play with, with a rubber-stamp House caucus led by Nancy Pelosi waiting down the hall. Yet the DREAM Act never budged. Sure, Democrats were often preoccupied with forcing a terrible, unpopular healthcare scheme into existence -- which continues to fail to this day -- but they had the bandwidth and the power to make DACA legislation happen if they'd chosen to prioritize it. They didn't. Why not? Far be it from me to emulate Obama's chronic inclination to impugn opponents' motives, but a cynic might wonder if Democrats might actually prefer to exploit DREAMers as a political football, rather than resolving their status permanently and legitimately. And I won't even mention this serious allegation about Obama's calculations.
(3) "To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating..and it is cruel." The Trump administration clearly stated yesterday that they will not be "targeting" these young people or reshuffling their enforcement priorities, under which deporting criminal aliens remains the top point of emphasis. They are simply unwinding an unconstitutional power grab and asking Congress to legislate, which is the legislative branch's appropriate role. On the matter of "cruelty," tell me: Was it cruel to ignore the DREAMers in 2009 and 2010? Were they any less dream-filled or striving at that time? Was it cruel to implement a legally shoddy, admittedly temporary policy that could be instantly reversed by a subsequent president, thereby injecting chaos and fearful uncertainty back into DREAMers' lives after they'd already identified themselves to the federal government? Was it cruel to touch off the unaccompanied minor crisis at the southern border, which was heavily attributed to reports of an amnesty for children? (And is that magnet effect not a strong reason to tie a DREAM Act fix to upgraded immigration enforcement?)
Finally, where in the constitution is the president afforded special dispensation to abolish "cruelty" or enforce "basic decency" as he sees fit, regardless of the separation of powers? Take a moment to consider the right-wing projects that might be accomplished under Obama's subjective, law-ignoring, "that's not who we are" standard. Rather than moralizing and lecturing, Obama should focus on how he might work to accomplish something that he failed to achieve during that precious first half of his first term: Rallying Hill Democrats to pass a DREAM Act deal, even if it's paired with border enforcement -- which Democrats also claim to support. Given his polarizing effect on Republicans (of which he is reportedly keenly aware), his greatest contribution may have been behind-the-scenes lobbying, coupled with public silence. It's too late for that. At least he's leading a remarkably consistent chorus:
Democrats on #DACA decision:— Chris Donovan (@chrisdonovan) September 6, 2017
Barack Obama: “cruel”
Bill Clinton: “cruel”
Joe Biden: “cruel”
Nancy Pelosi “cruel”
Bernie Sanders: “cruel”