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Trump's shameful move to end DACA

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Michael Knigge
September 5, 2017

Donald Trump's decision to end the DACA program that shielded hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation is heartless and unwise. But it serves as a harbinger of things to come, says DW's Michael Knigge.

DACA Protest Washington USA
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/N.Lambrecht

President Donald Trump could have chosen to follow through on the vow he gave DACA recipients after his inauguration when he said in an ABC interview that "they shouldn't be very worried" and that "I do have a big heart. We're going to take care of everybody."

Trump could have chosen to heed the advice of business and religious leaders, civil society representatives and politicians from both parties urging him not to end a program that the country has benefited from economically. DACA has allowed young people who were brought here as children to become official members of society in the only place most of them really know.

What Trump could have done

Or Trump could have just chosen to be compassionate and simply do the decent thing befitting the leader of the United States and extend DACA followed by a major speech explaining to the nation why allowing the so-called Dreamers to stay is the American way to act. And then he could have told the Republican-led states that threatened to sue if he did not axe the program, "Bring it on," vowing that defending it was in America's interests.             

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Michael Knigge is DW's Washington correspondent

But Trump chose not to.

Instead he chose to double down on his nationalist and anti-immigrant impulses that fueled his rise to the White House and axe a program that protected some 800,000 young immigrants from deportation. These are people that were brought here as children. They are law-abiding, tax-paying members of society who have worked and lived here - and even served in the military - for years with one only key difference compared to citizens and green card holders: they have no permanent residence status. That Trump has now announced that he will end the program that protects them is shameful and mean-spirited. 

To be correct, Trump, who usually relishes every opportunity to show the world that he is the ultimate decision maker in Washington, this time delegated the dirty work of announcing the phasing out of DACA to his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who had already in the past declared his opposition to the program and on Tuesday seemed not unhappy to make it official. The president, in typical Trump fashion, then also punted on the issue, urging Congress via Twitter to "do your job."

Having cake and eating it

Asking Congress to come up with a fix, after having just ended the very program that protects many young people from being deported by his own administration is rich - but is supposed to allow Trump to have his cake and eat it too.

In his next campaign rally he can tell his nativist, anti-immigrant base that he fulfilled his election promise and ended Barack Obama's reviled "Dreamer" protection program.  And he can tell more mainstream voters and legislators that his decision was based on the constitutional reasoning that DACA exceeds the executive power of the president - nevermind that Trump himself in the past has never been shy to claim broad executive powers.                           

Typical Trump playbook

Trump's argument is disingenuous and needs to be rejected. Should Congress, and its record so far suggests this is not unlikely, fail to come up with a solution to protect the "Dreamers" from being deported, the responsibility for their fate lies with Trump, who as president, could have acted, but chose not too.

But Trump's decision to axe DACA is significant far beyond the narrow purview of immigration, for it shows that when push comes to shove and times are tough, the president will always play to his nationalist, anti-immigrant base.

This was Trump's playbook in both his hedged response to the violence by the extreme right in Charlottesville and in his pardoning of controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a hero for many anti-immigrant voters. The looming fate of DACA presented Trump with another opportunity to amend his stance, and sorry if this sounds corny, to finally become president of all Americans.

Again, he chose not to. While this is pernicious for the country, it is also helpful as it should finally clear up the notion that Trump somehow, someday will change and grow into the presidency.