President Trump's spiteful campaign to undo the accomplishments of his predecessor has ramped up on two fronts in recent days. On Sunday, the White House announced that it intends to hold the future of the so-called Dreamers hostage to Trump's vision of an America with fewer immigrants. Then on Monday the Environmental Protection Agency said it would rescind the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, a regulatory mechanism that forces power plants to reduce emissions of climate-changing gases.
Fortunately, the courts have stymied many of the administration's earlier efforts to undo or ignore regulations it doesn't like, and we hope they will do so with the Clean Power Plan. The initiative was Obama's signature policy for meeting carbon-reduction promises under the Paris Agreement on climate change. Of course, Trump, who has in the past called global warming a hoax, has already announced that he's backing the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, too, because it's a "bad deal" for America. Why he thinks stronger storms, intensified droughts, rising sea levels and food insecurity are good for America is beyond comprehension. The Clean Power Plan was adopted fairly and legally through the rigid regulatory process that is set out in law, and the Trump administration will now have to make the case — eventually in court — that the Obama administration was wrong in declaring its necessity. That's a hard argument to make, and one we believe will ultimately be unpersuasive.
The day before the EPA's announcement, the White House took another step backward on immigration, announcing a menu of hard-line policy goals that it says must be approved if Congress wants to extend protection to the Dreamers — immigrants who have been living illegally in the country since they were children. Obama had offered this group of mostly young people permission to stay and work in the U.S. under his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump, however, has been hostile to the program from the start, though he has veered around incoherently in search of a position that would minimize his political vulnerability on the issue.
First, he campaigned vociferously against DACA (calling it "one of the most unconstitutional actions ever undertaken by a president"). He announced in September that he would end the program in the spring. Then, in what seemed like a bizarre contradiction, he told Congress that he hoped it would save the DACA recipients by crafting a new law to protect them. Now, in yet another twist, he is saying he will back that new law only if Congress gives him funding for his ridiculous and exorbitant border wall, 10,000 more immigration agents and more immigration judges, prosecutors and detention beds, while also scrapping protections for the most vulnerable unaccompanied minors. That's not a policy template, it's a ransom demand.
DACA has allowed about 800,000 people who have lived illegally in the U.S. since childhood to come out of the shadows and work, go to school and take part in everyday life without fearing deportation. It was an imperfect solution to the difficult problem of what to do with people brought here as children by their parents and who have been raised and educated as Americans, but who lack legal status. It is a matter of fundamental fairness, and humanity, to find a way to let them stay instead of deporting them to countries they barely know. Their fate should not be used as a bargaining chip to achieve Trump's goal of cracking down on immigration.
Trump's new demands would reduce the number of people allowed to come live in the United States, turn away more of the neediest applicants and put a new emphasis on accepting those who are already successful in their home countries. All in all, it would be to the detriment of the nation's future. Congress — both Republicans and Democrats — should see this play to jingoism and chauvinism for what it is, and reject Trump's proposals.
Congress already has a template for reforming the system — the "Gang of Eight" comprehensive immigration plan that cleared the Senate in 2013 but later died in the House. The administration ought to dust off that legislation, work with Congress to make it better and push it through. That compromise included Republican-backed steps to secure the border. But it also included a path to citizenship for the Dreamers and a path to legal status for others who have been here so long they have established roots and families, become productive members of their communities and become integral to certain parts of the economy, particularly agriculture, construction and the service industry. Immigration has made this country stronger, not weaker. Our policies must reflect that.