President Barack Obama is being pressured by immigration activists to pardon hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people so that Donald Trump can’t deport them.
Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Lucille Roybal-Allard of California and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois recently sent a letter to Obama asking him to use his authority to forgive the “past and future civil immigration offenses” of the more than 740,000 so-called Dreamers who benefit from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
White House officials quickly nixed the idea, insisting that such a pardon would be the equivalent of granting permanent legal status. As they noted, the president has no such authority. No surprise there. Obama doesn’t listen to immigration activists, as he has shown by ignoring their pleas to curb deportations.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, shouldn’t we stop and ask whether deporting Dreamers is something that President-elect Trump even wants to do in the first place? It doesn’t appear so.
Granted, Trump did say that those who are in the country illegally would have to leave. He also threatened to reverse Obama’s executive actions, including DACA, which allows the young and undocumented to apply for a two-year work permit and temporary reprieve from deportation.
But Trump’s chest-thumping on immigration could be nothing more than theatrics. This is the kind of stuff Republicans do when they’re trying to get elected. Now that he has been elected, it doesn’t appear that Trump has the stomach for following through on much of his tough talk.
After Time named Trump its Person of the Year, the billionaire told the magazine this when asked about his plans for the Dreamers: “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud. They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
That doesn’t seem so harsh, does it? Hard-line restrictionists who want to see the Dreamers tossed out by the only country they’ve ever known should brace for disappointment. And those left-wing organizations that are asking for money to stop Trump from deporting a group of people that he doesn’t seem so interested in getting rid of should find a new scare tactic for fundraising.
It’s the immigration two-step. Republicans act tough when campaigning but go soft once they’re in office to help big business. Democrats act soft on the campaign trail, but drop the hammer once they’re in office to please organized labor. Everyone gets deceived. Nothing gets done.
Nevertheless, the White House was right to throw cold water on the whole idea of Obama issuing a mass pardon to Dreamers.
Let’s start with what makes these young people special in the first place. It’s not the attributes that seem to impress politicians. It has nothing to do with the fact that many of these undocumented immigrants are going to college and pursuing big-shot careers. That’s elitist, superficial nonsense that only drives a wedge between these young people and their often less educated but hardworking parents who have sacrificed so much for them.
What really makes Dreamers special is the same thing that makes them appear so sympathetic to many Americans. It’s the fact that they did not make a conscious decision to break our immigration laws.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently seized on that point when he delivered to Trump a letter co-signed by 15 other municipal leaders from around the country vouching for DACA students. Emanuel, a one-time immigration hard-liner who is undergoing an extreme makeover as a savior for the undocumented, told reporters that he informed Trump that these young people should be able to remain in the United States because “it’s no fault of their own their parents came here.”
That makes sense. For these young people, coming to the United States was no more a voluntary act than the time your parents dragged you to Yellowstone Park for summer vacation.
There’s the problem. A pardon would be legal, but it wouldn’t be logical. A pardon is the official forgiveness of wrongdoing. And, as we’ve repeatedly been told, the Dreamers are innocent.
So how do you forgive wrongdoing by a group of people who did nothing wrong?
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.