Trump Immigration

Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes a statement at the Justice Department in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, on President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program. President Donald Trump's administration will "wind down" a program protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared Tuesday, calling the Obama administration's program "an unconstitutional exercise of authority." (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Susan Walsh

Think mass deportations are on the cards now that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced it's curtains for the so-called dreamers?

Dream on. We can't afford it, and whatever reputation we have left as a haven for the downtrodden could hardly withstand the sight of immigration goons rounding up honest taxpayers because their papers weren't in order.

It is true that, although the Declaration of Independence asserts a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” Americans do not necessarily crave the approval of foreigners. But what's at stake here is the American dream itself.

“Dreamers” — immigrants, who arrived here as minors and are now protected from deportation, and allowed to work, by dint of an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 — now number 800,000. Round up that many people and France would probably want the Statue of Liberty back.

Although President Donald Trump is now fulfilling a campaign promise to rescind Obama's order, he is giving Congress six months to set up a replacement program if it so chooses.

And so it probably will choose. Opinion polls show a comfortable bipartisan majority in favor of letting the dreamers be.

In his speech announcing the end of the dreamer program, Sessions was not about to shed any tears for the beneficiaries. They were, on average, six years old when they were brought into this country, and are mostly in full-time employment or education, but they are just “illegal aliens” to Sessions.

Both Trump and Sessions aver that the immigrants are taking jobs away from natives, but that is a fallacy highly popular in xenophobic circles. The employment rate is high right now, and productive newcomers, in any case, will always generate extra economic activity.

Running the dreamers out of the country would hit the American economy hard — to the tune of $200 billion in 10 years, according to the Cato Institute, while the Center for American Progress put it at $400 billion.

Louisiana's dreamer population is relatively sparse, but, according to the Center for American Progress, its loss would cost the state $90 million a year.

Still, Obama clearly pulled a fast one when he gave the dreamers a break in the first place, and the case for reversing his order was, on constitutional principle, unanswerable. Changing the rules, moreover, was clearly unfair to all those would-be immigrants who may have waited for years to be admitted according to the law.

Obama's dreamer order was clearly an offense against the separation of powers since immigration law is Congress's responsibility. But whatever Obama was for, Republicans in Congress were sworn to oppose, so legislation was out. The only way Obama could relieve the dreamers' plight was by unilateral action.

But that is no excuse. While his executive order was in the interests of fair play and a sound economy, it disregarded the checks and balances that distinguish the American system of governance. Obama used to be a professor of constitutional law, while Trump is not known for any powers of legal exegesis. but he was right when he raised the dreamer issue on the campaign trail. Obama, when he couldn't get what he wanted from Congress, did indeed resort to executive overreach.

Now, after Democrats, and even a few Republicans, denounced Trump as a heartless tyrant, he has changed his tune somewhat, claiming to have a “a great love” for dreamers and no desire to punish them for the sins of their parents. Although Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry remains an implacable critic of the Obama order, other Louisiana officials, while sharing the constitutional objections, are sympathetic to the dreamers

Congress not only has a president more to its taste but one who promises to help it come up with a statutory definition of the dreamers' legal status. The six months' grace period should be more than enough to hammer out legislation, especially as a majority is jake with the ideas that the dreamers are here to stay.

It is true that disagreements will certainly arise — conservatives will be wary of any clause that might pave the way to citizenship — but, if Congress is ever going to give Trump the victory he badly needs, this could be the issue.

Email James Gill at jgill@theadvocate.com.