Politicians will always disappoint you. Rich Lowry at National Review tells the story of how, during the few hours he was considering a run for New York City mayor, he found himself already starting to waffle on principle to a potential voter in the elevator. If I were ever so unwise as to run for office, I too would no doubt disappoint those who unwisely voted for me.
So I was fully prepared for the Trump administration to do some things I wouldn't be happy with. But I expected the problems to arise in the area of foreign-worker visas; the president, while running for the nomination, made frequent statements in support of importing foreign workers on visas. (See here and here and here.)
What I did not expect was for Trump to break an explicit promise regarding his headline issue on the administration's first business day in office. But that may be what's happened.
Point Number Five in Trump's August Phoenix immigration speech was not ambiguous: “We will immediately terminate President Obama's two illegal executive amnesties, in which he defied federal law and the constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants.” Those two illegal amnesties are DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – for illegals who came as kids, often called "Dreamers") and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents). Only DACA actually went into effect; DAPA is held up in the courts. So the number of illegals whom Obama was actually able to lawlessly amnesty – providing them with work permits, Social Security numbers, access to the EITC welfare program and state driver's licenses – was “only” about 750,000.
“Immediately terminating” the program wouldn't necessarily have required an executive order, at least not on Day One. Nor would it require rounding up and deporting the DACAs; ICE has enough to do trying to restart deportation of the drunk drivers and wife-beaters Obama let go to worry about DACAs who aren't involved in violent crimes.
But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which handles the two-year, renewable amnesty program, could easily have been instructed to suspend processing of DACA applications – both for renewals and first-time applicants – until further notice.
That hasn't happened, at least not yet. In response to an inquiry from me earlier today, USCIS spokesman Steve Blando e-mailed me the following: “We are still accepting/processing DACA requests under existing policy.” He told Politico the same thing, verbatim. Politico also reported that “according to the most recent public statistics — from the third quarter of last year — an average of about 140 initial applications and 690 renewals were approved each calendar day.”
If that average holds up, it means that more than 800 illegal aliens received new or renewed work permits during the first business day of the Trump administration.
Despite the fact that suspending the DACA program would simply require a memo to USCIS, it's at least possible that this is a snafu; there wasn't much of a campaign infrastructure or a government-in-waiting, so the transition team had a heck of a time preparing for January 20. Maybe the memo to halt DACA is stuck in someone's in-box. The anti-enforcement Obama administration faced a comparable case of seemingly betrayal when in early 2009 ICE conducted a workplace raid without approval from Washington and arrested a bunch of illegals. The anti-borders crowd raised holy hell and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano pledged to get to the bottom of the scandal, with the result that the illegals were released and given work permits, and worksite raids pretty much ended for the next eight years.
On the other hand, it could be that the Priebus faction won out over the Bannon faction and there was a conscious decision to betray the immigration hawks who put Trump in the White House. Reince Priebus yesterday, and Sean Spicer today, hinted pretty strongly that the administration has decided to abandon its explicit commitment to halt DACA. Spicer said the administration's focus would be on “people who can do harm, or who have done harm, and have a criminal record.” But this is a non sequitur. Ending DACA isn't about deporting the illegals covered by Obama's lawless decree; it's not even about canceling all their work permits. Rather, the program should be stopped, so no new or renewed work permits are issued, and the ones outstanding should simply be permitted to expire at their scheduled times. David Bier over at Cato did the math and here's his estimate of the timeline for expirations:
If the Trump administration just continues to issue work permits to illegal aliens as though the election never happened, not only is it an in-your-face betrayal, it also weakens congressional Republicans' bargaining position. I'm actually in favor of giving green cards to illegals who came as young children; here's my 2010 NR piece outlining a DREAM Act 2.0, which would trade amnesty for this modest but sympathetic share of the illegal population in exchange for nationwide E-Verify and an end to family chain migration and the visa lottery. The president himself suggested his openness to something like that last month, when he said “we're going to work something out” for the DREAMers. But Chuck Schumer isn't going to deal unless there's pressure, and the prospect of hundreds of DACAs losing their work permits each day that Schumer holds out is an important element of that pressure (unless McConnell just scraps the current 60-vote cloture rule, which he should). Without suspending the DACA program, what bargaining power does the administration have?
Will Trump give work permits to another 800 illegal aliens tomorrow? Stay tuned.
Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by the Center for Immigration Studies on January 23, 2017.