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VOL. 132 | NO. 157 | Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ten AGs Threaten Trump on Immigration


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The attorneys general of 10 states, led by Texas’ Ken Paxton with strong support from Tennessee AG Herbert Slatery III, are threatening to sue the federal government.

They want to reverse President Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Executive Action of 2012, which has allowed about 800,000 hardworking, good kids who were born abroad but raised in America the opportunity to stay here, study here and work.

We all remember President Trump’s vehement anti-immigration positions on the campaign, a political tactic which helped propel him to the White House.

One of his first actions as president, an ill-advised and illegal ban on Muslims from five countries, suggested that he intended to convert campaign rhetoric to policy. Blocked by the judiciary branch, Trump seemed to forget that the judiciary is an equal to and necessary check on the executive in our three-part structure of government that involves three branches, not one.

A government with only one branch is sometimes called autocracy, a dictatorship, or more gently, a monarchy.

Ironically, in the one area where Trump could act unilaterally in making good on his campaign promises – ending DACA with a stroke of a pen – the president has been hesitant; he understands the political price he’d pay for, essentially, initiating deportation orders against young people who are American in every sense except they lack U.S. citizenship.

DACA kids came to the United States, in virtually every case, in the arms of their parents, before attaining the age of reason, or the age by which they could make decisions on their own.

So, to avoid a political backlash, Trump will probably allow his embattled attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to do the dirty work.

The 10 states threatening to sue President Trump have attached a Sept. 5 ultimatum to the threat. Any such lawsuit would have to be defended by the Department of Justice, which Sessions leads.

Sessions, of course, is no friend to the immigrant community and, in 2010, was instrumental in killing the Senate version of the “Dream Act,” which would have permanently regularized immigration status for kids who would later benefit from Obama’s executive action. As U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said recently, “If you’re going to count on Jeff Sessions to save DACA, then DACA is ended.”

Here, it appears that Sessions will either not offer a strong defense of DACA in the courts or decide that DACA is not defensible. Either way, DACA ends, and Trump can claim it was out of his hands while hiding behind Sessions and 10 attorneys general when the political backlash begins.

A study released nine months ago by the National Immigration Law Center shows clearly that DACA recipients are buying automobiles and homes, they’re contributing to the tax base of their communities, their wages have increased by 42 percent (post-DACA), and 95 percent of all DACA recipients were employed or in school at the time the survey was conducted.

Eight thousand of these kids live in the state of Tennessee. DACA plus providing a pathway to normalized immigration status for DACA recipients are enormously popular with the American public; a recent poll shows 78 percent of registered voters supporting such policies.

Why then would these 10 AGs – including Tennessee’s Slatery – seek to interfere with the American dream of young people living and working, and by all measures thriving, under DACA? We can’t definitively answer that question, except to note that all the states represented in this complicated lawsuit, with the exception of Idaho, are in the South, where segregation, racism and exclusion cast a long and ugly shadow.

Ending DACA makes no sense economically, socially or morally. And people motivated by fear, anger, and, yes, racism, shouldn’t be holding the highest legal office in their respective states, or the highest legal office in the nation.

Ashby is a Memphis-based attorney and board member at Latino Memphis Inc. LaRosa teaches history at Rhodes College.

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