Our message to the world will be this. You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country. […]
The truth is, the central issue is not the needs of the 11 million illegal immigrants … Anyone who tells you that the core issue is the needs of those living here illegally has simply spent too much time in Washington … There is only one core issue in the immigration debate, and that issue is the well-being of the American people.
~Donald Trump, 8/31/16
The two biggest rallying cries against Obama’s imperial presidency in recent years have been: “repeal Obamacare” and “repeal Obama’s illegal executive amnesty.” Conservatives swore to ourselves that if we ever got back into the White House those two odious policies were as good as dead. As we’ve chronicled in this column, repeal of Obamacare is already on the ropes. If Obama’s amnesty is not repealed administratively in short order, it will represent a colossal betrayal of Trump’s basic campaign promise and set a terrible precedent for an imperial presidency.
During the incipient days of this administration Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has indicated that he does not want to repeal Obama’s DACA amnesty:
President Trump has no immediate plans to use his executive powers to undo the Obama administration’s order that protects some young illegal immigrants known as “dreamers,” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus made clear Sunday, in previewing the new administration’s first full week.
“I think we’re going to work with the House and Senate leadership, as well as to get a long-term solution on that issue,” Priebus told “Fox News Sunday.” “I'm not going to make any commitments to you, but … I'm obviously foreshadowed there a little bit.”
Furthermore, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer indicated that this won’t be a priority:
Re: DACA, Spicer sez Trump's been "clear that we need to direct agencies to focus on those in this country illegally" w/ "criminal record"— Catherine Thompson (@KT_thomps) January 23, 2017
This position is very problematic for several reasons:
1. Welfare for Illegals
Trump officials, and perhaps the president himself, don’t seem to understand what DACA is (much like some don’t understand what Obamacare actually is), which is why they are confused about repealing it. Obama’s executive amnesty was not merely the suspension of deportations of certain classes of illegal aliens. It offered them benefits and affirmative legal status, with Social Security cards, work permits, and thousands of dollars in refundable tax credit welfare payments. In fact, well over 500,000 illegals had received Social Security cards by 2014. According to a Congressional Research Service memo, illegal families could receive as much as $35,000 in retroactive EITC benefits the first year after being approved for Obama’s executive amnesty. This was all done without an act of Congress. Thus, to say we are not going to focus on deporting DACA recipients is a non-sequitur to the main problem of granting them affirmative benefits. Even if we don’t deport large numbers of them, we should certainly not give them American benefits.
2. Discretion vs. amnesty
There is one thing to use discretion to prioritize some enforcement actions over others. That is what every federal and state law enforcement agency does on a daily basis. It is quite another dynamic to actually publicly make a policy of de facto amnesty and legitimize and codify the supposed right of illegal immigrants to remain in the country contrary to our sovereignty laws. Saying we are only focusing on criminal aliens is essentially Obama’s stated [albeit false] messaging.
3. “Dream” amnesty serves as a magnet
Agreeing to the false notion that children of illegal aliens have a right to demand legal status and that poor decisions of their parents and host countries are the fault of American taxpayers and workers runs contrary to everything Trump said during the campaign. Furthermore, it encourages future waves of immigration at a time when Central Americans understands that once they come here with children they are essentially here to stay. Trump promised to get rid of unqualified birthright citizenship for those born here to illegal immigrant parents. How could he then grant amnesty to those born in foreign countries?
4. A king or a president?
Irrespective of one’s policy views on immigration, maintaining Obama’s illegal amnesty shreds our sovereignty, Constitution, and sets a terrible precedent. The executive amnesty was perhaps Obama’s most egregious act of imperialism because it undermined the very foundation of our sovereignty. In fact, giving rights to aliens is the quintessential example Hamilton used to contrast a president from a king. “[T]he one [a president] can confer no privileges whatever; the other [a king] can make denizens of aliens, noblemen of commoners; can erect corporations with all the rights incident to corporate bodies,” wrote Hamilton in Federalist #69. There is no greater act of imperialism than for a president to unilaterally nullify our sovereignty and violate immigration statutes.
Conservatives in Congress should not wait for Trump to act. They should immediately demand a vote on legislation cutting off refundable tax credits to illegal aliens. They should also pass the New IDEA Act (Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa (B, 81%)), which would eliminate the employer tax deduction for any employee who is working here illegally. They need to get Trump back on message and refocus the debate away from the false dichotomy of immediate and mass deportations toward putting American taxpayers and workers first.
Every president over-promises and under-delivers. That is to be expected. Time will tell what happens with the proactive conservative immigration reforms Trump promised. And to his credit, Trump has already made good on some promises, such as a freeze on federal hiring and reinstatement of the Mexico City abortion funding policy. But there is no excuse for maintaining any shred of Obama’s amnesty. That is a red line.
Make no mistake about it, if Republicans keep Obama’s amnesty, they will own it — much like they will own Obamacare if they maintain the insurance regulations. There is never more political capital to rescind it than during the first 100 days. Conservatives would be wise to make sure the cooler heads in Trump’s administration prevail over Reince Priebus.