Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) defended the constitutionality of DACA on Tuesday, claiming that former President Barack Obama was within his rights to enact the immigration program in 2012.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be "wound down" over the next six months. The Obama administration implemented DACA by executive order as a way to implement some of its immigration goals after they were rebuked by Congress. The program deferred deportation for certain illegal immigrants who enter the country as minors.
During an interview about the Trump administration's new policy, MSNBC host Craig Melvin asked Gallego to go beyond the merits of DACA, asking whether such a sweeping program is within the president's power.
"The merits of DACA not withstanding, it essentially became a law that was never passed by the branch that is charged with making laws," Melvin said. "Several lower courts have said that it is illegal. DACA was supposed to be a place holder. So, how would keeping this program in place, which means basically not enforcing the law, how would that be an acceptable solution?"
"The constitutionality of DACA has been backed up before," Gallego said. "We have seen this happen with different TPS procedures, whether it was for Cubans, or for Haitians, or for other huge communities. We never gave status, in terms of pathway to citizenship, to any DACA recipients. All it did was say they were not going to be prosecuted."
Gallego said that Trump had "passed the buck," throwing the problem of preserving DACA to Congress rather than preserving the Obama executive order.
"Shouldn't it be Congress?" Melvin asked. "Shouldn't it have been Congress all along that solved this dilemma?"
"Well, sure," Gallego said. "But let's remember we tried to do that, and the DREAM Act came in as executive orders because it failed back in the day, when it did not get through the Senate."
"This is not something that ideally we wanted, but it was established law," he said. "The problem that you have right now, President Trump just kicked this to Congress without any idea what he would be willing to sign or not."
"But, congressman, you can see that the DREAM Act failed more than a dozen times. I mean, lawmakers in both chambers have taken this up more than a dozen times and it has failed every time," Melvin said.
"Yes. Again, that's why the executive order was in place after failing so many times to make sure that people had protection from deportation," Gallego said.
"But should that be what executive orders do?" Melvin asked. "Should executive orders essentially be end-arounds the legislative branch? If elected lawmakers have said no, then why should the president of the United States be able to say yes?"
"Well, because it is within his constitutional duties, you know, and responsibilities if he wants to choose to do that," Gallego responded. "And at the same time, we were talking about a population of 800,000 to 1.2 million people that were facing deportation, and President Obama decided to do that."
"Now, should Congress always act? Absolutely. We would love to act first. Many instances, outside of immigration, where the presidency does have power and uses it because of Congress's inaction," he said.