This week, the Trump Administration provided Congress with an opportunity: to make immigration law the right way, through legislation, not executive orders. Will they seize the moment, or squander it on scoring political points?
Hyperbolic reactions from the expected special interest groups, and from many politicians, to the Trump Administration's decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (an Obama-era executive order put in place to protect illegal youths from deportation known as DACA) have been predictable and counter-productive. It will continue to be tempting for Democrats in particular to exploit immigration as a political wedge issue – painting Trump and all Republicans as racist and anti-dreamer. (Dreamers are youths who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.) This approach would be both bad government and bad politics.
The winding down of DACA is the perfect time for Congress to develop effective, compassionate policy on immigration – something most Americans strongly agree we need. The best reforms will be developed through the legislative process, not executive orders – and that's something else both sides can agree on.
In the meantime, leaders should stay away from inflammatory language and fear mongering. Mass deportations will not happen – it is simply not logistically possible, and it is not what the Trump Administration has called for. It is worth noting how Attorney General Sessions described the government's next steps:
The Department of Justice has advised the President and the Department of Homeland Security that DHS should begin an orderly, lawful wind down, including the cancellation of the memo that authorized this program. … This [wind down process] will enable DHS to conduct an orderly change and fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act—should it so choose. We firmly believe this is the responsible path.
Sessions' words about a "wind down" were rational and calm, indicating an approach that is not drastic or dramatic, not gratuitously painful or overly political. The end of DACA and the beginning of lawful immigration reform can, and should, be handled with this level of maturity and respect – for dreamers for American citizens, and for our nation's tradition of the rule of law.