In case you were harboring any doubts over the role immigration will play in the 2020 presidential campaign, the Supreme Court on Friday morning all but guaranteed it will be front and center next spring.
The court agreed to hear an appeal of lower court decisions that barred the Trump administration from ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which protected from deportation people living in the country illegally after being brought here as children. It’s an immensely popular program with American voters, and even President Donald Trump supported its aims before former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other immigration hard-liners persuaded him to terminate it.
It’s way too early to read the tea leaves in the case, but the court’s unrelated decision Thursday on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census offers some guidance. The court held that while Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had the authority to add the question, he still had to come up with a valid reason for doing so.
Ross failed on that front, and miserably so. And the administration may be vulnerable to the same weakness in its DACA rollback.
In crafting the DACA program, President Barack Obama invoked a president’s authority to use prosecutorial discretion in determining which deportation cases to pursue. It struck him and many, many others as unfair to deport people who’d been brought to the U.S. without a say in the matter, who were then raised and educated here, and who, in many cases, are Americans in every way except legal status. And many of them have few ties to the countries in which they were born; they may not even speak the language there.
It also made little sense from a policy standpoint that we should cast out people we had invested in educating. Why send them away rather than letting them use their educations to become more fully a part of American society and the economy?
But the hard-liners surrounding Trump embrace a scorched-earth mindset that means even those migrants must go, and Sessions concocted an argument that Obama lacked the constitutional authority to defer those prosecutions — an argument that hinges on technical points about individualized findings versus a sweeping policy.
Well, now we’ll find out.
As a side note, it’s interesting that Trump, who has relied on executive orders to get around Congress on issues like border security, would argue that he doesn’t have the power in this case to determine which deportation cases to pursue.
An authoritarian wanting to give up authority isn’t something you see every day.
Scott Martelle is an opinion writer for the Los Angeles Times. He is a native of Maine.