WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 05: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks on immigration at the Justice Department September 5, 2017 in Washington, DC....
Alex Wong

Sessions: Trump admin has 'rescinded' protections for Dreamers

— Updated

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump vowed to pursue mass deportations, without exceptions. In a not-so-subtle shot at Dreamers, the Republican vowed, "[U]nlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement." This followed related comments in which he said Dreamers "have to go."

As president, however, Trump seemed to realize how radical a posture this was. As recently as late April, he said Dreamers should "rest easy" about his immigration policies. Trump told the Associated Press at the time that he's "not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals."

Which of these commitments would the president break?

The New York Times reported that as recently as last week, Trump, feeling exasperated, asked his aides for "a way out" the dilemma. Today we learned what they came up with.

President Donald Trump's Justice Department announced Tuesday it would wind down DACA, putting in place a phased termination plan that would give Congress a six-month window to pass legislation that could eventually save the Obama-era program that allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country. [...]

The decision could affect as many as 800,000 Dreamers who have signed up for the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, since its 2012 inception. Immigrant rights advocates have said 200,000 more have sought DACA status since Trump became president.

Because Trump apparently lacked the courage to make this announcement himself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a long-time opponent of the Dream Act during his Senate career, announced this morning that the DACA program is "now rescinded."

For the hundreds of thousands of young people for whom the United States is the only home they've ever known, the Trump administration's announcement is a nightmare come to life. We're talking about people who are already part of the American fabric -- from soldiers to students, workers to home owners -- who will now confront the threat of deportation for reasons Donald Trump lacks the wherewithal to explain.

It's among the cruelest presidential decisions in recent memory, and it was made for no good reason.

For Congress, meanwhile, it's a political hand grenade without a pin. As if lawmakers didn't have enough challenges on their plate, Trump's "way out" involves shifting responsibility for Dreamers' future to Capitol Hill -- making it easier for the president who rescinded DACA to effectively declare in six months, "Don't blame me; I told Congress to clean up the mess."

That the president created the mess is a detail he apparently expects everyone to overlook.

Previewing Sessions' brief remarks -- the attorney general refused to answer questions after his announcement -- Trump said this morning via Twitter that members of Congress should prepare to "do [their] job" on DACA, but it's not at all clear what, specifically, the White House expects from lawmakers. Does Trump want the Dream Act? Would he sign it? Does he envision any protections for Dreamers? If no bill passes, is it possible he'd create another six-month extension?

What's more, the odds of Congress meeting this challenge are remote. Republicans have, by and large, opposed the Dream Act in recent years, and they don't welcome the opportunity to enrage the GOP's far-right base ahead of next year's midterms. There's talk of using Dreamers' fate as a bargaining chip -- trading DACA for border-wall funding, for example -- but Democratic leaders have so far dismissed such talk as ridiculous.

Political failure is the most likely outcome.

Stepping back, it's striking to appreciate just how many constituencies Trump failed today. Business leaders urged him not to do this. So did university leaders, the faith community, and veterans' groups. Polls show DACA is popular with the American mainstream, which wasn't exactly clamoring for any kinds of regressive changes.

The only group of people who wanted to see a move like this were elements of Trump's far-right base -- some of the same folks who cheered the president's Joe Arpaio pardon and defended Trump's nauseating reaction to violence in Charlottesville.

The president, in other words, is increasingly focused on representing the wishes of a radicalized sliver of the country -- and practically no one else.