Ruben Navarrette: Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, DACA isn't worth saving

Ruben Navarrette: DACA isn't worth defending. And how dreadful that the immigration debate forces undocumented people, and those of us who want the best for them, to look at such weak gruel and declare it a five-course meal.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
Tribune graphic
We are part of The Trust Project.

SAN DIEGO — Even as a Mexican American who has spent three decades defending immigrants, I'm done with DACA.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is back in the news, but the Obama-era program is perhaps not long for this world. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether President Trump had the power to end it in September 2017. A ruling from the high court is not expected for several months, but the conservative majority seems likely to side with Trump.

Soon, it could be adios DACA. I'm good with that.

If Republicans want to strike down this program, they can knock themselves out. In fact, with any luck, some in the GOP will get knocked out, too. The demise of DACA could inflame Latino voters to the point where they turn out heavily in next year's election — and leave the voting booth with a pound of elephant flesh. The backlash could force Republicans in Congress whose districts have substantial Latino populations into early retirement. Given how insufferably Republicans behave when the immigration issue comes along, this would be a public service. Good riddance.

That goes double for DACA. The program is a headache, a distraction and a farce. It is also a poor man's substitute for what this country really needs and the undocumented actually deserve: comprehensive immigration reform.


Also, to the degree that the program was the executive branch's answer to the Dream Act — an elitist bill that offered legal status to young people but only sent lifeboats to those who went to college or joined the military — DACA is just as exclusionary. The program's requirements include that applicants "are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces."

There is nothing for the parents of these young people, who may not have much of an education but represent the backbone, heart and soul of immigrant families.

Born of original spin, the program was never intended to be more than a pacifier tossed to Dreamers by one of the most anti-immigrant and pro-removal administrations in U.S. history — at least until Team Trump came along.

In the summer of 2012, President Obama was staring at poll numbers that didn't show much love from Latino voters. After Obama broke his 2008 election promise to make immigration reform a priority and instead deported record numbers of people, many Latinos were not sure they wanted to reelect him. Also, there were rumors that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, was discussing the idea of a GOP-sponsored stab at legalizing young people brought to the United States as children.

To cut Rubio off at the pass, Obama announced an executive action to halt deportations for a specific group of people — the very thing he had spent the previous couple of years telling liberal supporters he didn't have the power to do because he wasn't "a king."

Note, this was not an executive order, which is how presidents show they're serious about an issue. All Obama did was announce that the Department of Homeland Security was willing to shuffle the deck and defer the deportations of what turned out to be more than 600,000 undocumented young people who met certain conditions.

Ah yes, the conditions. That's part of what makes DACA so evil. You see, it's immoral to negotiate with the desperate, because they'll say "yes" to any terms you lay out. You have them over a barrel.

And all DHS wanted in return for a renewable two-year dispensation from deportation and a temporary work permit was, well, everything. Dreamers had to provide their fingerprints, mugshots, home addresses, names of parents and siblings who might also be undocumented — all their personal information. Applicants had to basically turn themselves into law enforcement and get arrested, and then they'd be let go on a short lease for two years as if on parole.


Talk about a rotten deal. Dimwitted right-wingers like to say that Obama came up with an unlawful executive amnesty.

The Supreme Court will decide whether it was lawful. But, in the court of public opinion, anyone with half a brain can see it was never amnesty. That's something for nothing. Dreamers gave up everything, and now Trump knows exactly where to find them — and their loved ones.

DACA isn't worth defending. And how dreadful that the immigration debate forces undocumented people, and those of us who want the best for them, to look at such weak gruel and declare it a five-course meal.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

What To Read Next
From the commentary: (Mike) Pompeo is critical of what he calls "the (Henry) Kissinger model" of engagement with China.
From the commentary: The (Trump) wall is largely ineffective as policy. ... It’s a silent scream of fear and loathing directed at the people on the other side.
From the commentary: (Kamala Harris) has the brains and the chops to be a real asset to the ticket and the party.
From the commentary: Americans have so far resisted getting cheated out of the benefits they and their employers have paid for with real money.