DACA lies cloud immigration debate

SAN DIEGO – The national dialogue over immigration remains the most dishonest debate in America.

Politicians in both parties routinely lie to their constituents. Liberals promise on the campaign trail to go soft on immigrants and then, once in office, hammer them to placate union members. Conservatives promise to get tough on illegal immigration when they’re courting nativists only to go easy on it once they take power in order to please business.


The right lies when it claims that the Republican Party isn’t pandering to racists; the left lies when it insists that the Democrats aren’t holding on to a wedge issue. And both sides lie about immigrants; liberals paint them all as givers while conservatives depict them as takers.

Now the immigration lies have seeped into the public debate over the government program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which the Obama administration created five years ago to give young undocumented immigrants a temporary reprieve from deportation and which was recently revoked by the Trump administration.

Speaking of lies, you’ll find plenty surrounding President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind DACA in the first place.

Even though I opposed DACA as inadequate and warned of its flaws soon after its enactment in 2012, the Trumpistas – with help from allies in conservative media – appear to be pulling a fast one. It’s unclear that Trump actually had the authority to kill DACA, at least not the way he did.

The standard issue GOP talking points are that President Obama’s executive action was unconstitutional (even though no court has issued such a ruling) and that Obama couldn’t just unilaterally nullify immigration law (even though DACA is not a law but simply a change in policy by the Department of Homeland Security, and even though a president who deported 3 million people cannot be accused of failing to enforce immigration law).

It appears the Republicans haven’t completely thought out this line of argument.

For one thing, are we to believe the same party that – after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – wildly expanded executive power and put on the Supreme Court two justices to defend that expansion (John Roberts and Samuel Alito) is now complaining that a Democratic president exceeded his own executive authority?

For another, if the GOP is correct that Obama didn’t have the power to create DACA, then from where does Trump draw the power to end DACA? In both cases, we’re talking about a chief executive attempting to set enforcement priorities for apprehending and deporting illegal immigrants.

The moment that the administration made the announcement to end DACA, Team Trump essentially conceded that Obama had the power to launch it in the first place.

That was a smart concession to make. There’s a simple reason why no court ever declared DACA unconstitutional. It’s because – despite all the smoke and spin from the right – it’s likely that the program was lawful all along.

A different program – Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), which was aimed at the parents of U.S.-born children – was successfully challenged in court. But DACA is not DAPA.

More importantly, in that case, United States v. Texas, U.S. district judge Andrew Hanen ducked the issue of whether either program was constitutional.

DACA’s critics also insist that Obama overstepped his bounds because a president doesn’t have the power to make laws.

But this wasn’t a case of Obama making his own law. It was merely an instance of a president doing what he is empowered to do by the Constitution: executing the law. In this case, that meant deciding who gets deported and when.

You see, Republicans are defending a Constitution they apparently haven’t read. The legislative branch makes the laws but the executive branch decides how and when those laws are enforced. In this case, that means deciding who gets deported and who doesn’t, and in six months, who gets deported again.

The GOP can’t have it both ways. Either a president – any president – has the power to stop and restart deportations or he doesn’t. Which is it?

If you don’t like DACA, and you’re glad that Trump killed it, that’s fine. But don’t lie about the program or its recipients to make yourself feel better about your position.

This just amounts to more deception. And the immigration debate has enough of that already.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is