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Capitolworks: Just the Facts...DACA and the Balance of Power

Immigration reform is a never abating issue facing our federal and state governments. The terms themselves, “immigration reform," trigger various connotations within every individual let alone political parties and interest groups. And while immigration policies surface within each new Congress and Administration, this week our attention was brought to this issue because of a date that was intended to have meaning but was left void. Monday, March 5th was to mark the end of an immigration program that has stirred passions not only from lawmakers but from diverse interest groups such as educators and clergy. And yet, Monday came and went, and nothing but ambiguity regarding the future of the program exists. Why? Because when you strip away all of the politics and passion, it comes down to a question of our nation’s constitutionally created division of powers working as intended.

The federal immigration policy most publicized this week is known as “The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” or DACA and was set to expire on March 5th per the Trump Administration’s actions. But, it didn’t. Here is why. The DACA debate began in the legislative branch of our federal government, Congress. First in 2001 and then again in 2010, Congress, within its constitutional authority, debated but ultimately failed to pass a bill known as the Dream Act. Had it passed, this Act would have allowed young adults brought here illegally by their parents as children to have protected status. Frustrated by Congress’ failure to pass the Act, On June 12, 2012 the Obama Administration, using its constitutional authority as the executive branch, created the DACA program that mirrored to some extent the Dream Act.

Enter a new Administration. In the summer of 2017, 11 state governors and attorneys general, joined by the Attorney General for the Trump Administration, contended that the creation of DACA by the previous Administration was outside the scope and authority of the executive branch and recommended that the current President rescind the program. President Trump ended the program in September and gave a six-month delay for legislative action-- March 5th.

But wait, the third branch of the federal government had yet to weigh in- the courts. On January 9th, 2018 a San Francisco US District Court judge blocked the Trump Administration’s actions and ruled that it must continue to process current DACA renewals but not new applications. The Administration appealed this ruling directly to the Supreme Court which refused to hear the case until appropriate lower court rulings.

Confused? You should be. Congress wrote a bill but never passed it into law. In response, a program was created by an Administration and then rescinded by another. The courts determined that the legal reasoning for rescinding the program was flawed but upheld half of the policy. So what now? As far as DACA goes, only time, countless debates, and potential lawsuits will tell. But what about our government? Do we have a balance of power and does that balance work? A never-ending question for our country.

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