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Local Politicians, Advocates Praise SCOTUS' DACA Decision As Temporary Victory

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Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, said California "has the most active DACA recipients of any state, with more than 184,000 recipients, and over 50% of them women. They are our family, neighbors and friends, and their talents will help our state succeed for generations to come.

Speaker 1: 00:00 So what are the political ramifications of today's DACA decision? Joining me to discuss that as political science professor, Tom Wong, who is director of the international migration studies program at UC San Diego, Tom, welcome to the program. Thanks for having me now, politics has always been one of the key elements of DACA. Start with the political debate back in 2012, when Obama announced the program, what were Republican saying then

Speaker 2: 00:27 prior to the June, 2012 DACA announcements, uh, then vice presidential hopeful, Marco Rubio, a Republican Senator from the state of Florida was throwing out a GOP version of the dream act. So that would give undocumented young people, not just temporary, uh, protection from deportation, but a permanent legislative fix. So to take the wind out of the sales of that Republican version of the dream act, we got DACA, but DACA, wasn't just a response to that Republican dream act proposal. If we also sort of think back to the months prior to June, 2012, there were undocumented young people who were sitting in on president Obama's reelection campaign offices, protesting, uh, demanding a permanent solution. And what we got was the June 15th, 2012, uh, DACA announcement.

Speaker 1: 01:29 And how has DACA been used in the years since then by both Democrats and Republicans as our endless debate over immigration continues.

Speaker 2: 01:38 This has been an interesting political football. After DACA was announced, there was celebration on the democratic side, there was also a quiet optimism that DACA represented a step toward a legislative solution. And so on the democratic side, there was hope that DACA was one short step toward a permanent legislative fix, but almost immediately after DACA was announced, you have the GOP calling it a unlawful use of a executive overreach. And so the sort of partisan name calling began almost immediately after the announcement of DACA, the news and the general public tends to focus on the sort of big legislative proposals that we see in Congress. But there have been multiple resolutions passed in the house when the GOP controlled the house that actually denounced DACA, calling it again, unlawful executive overreach. And so when we think about the context immediately after DACA and fast forward today, we still see DACA being a political football.

Speaker 2: 02:57 There are some within the GOP who see DACA as one way to court, the growing Hispanic, Latino electorate here in the United States. Um, their voices are at this moment being drowned out by an administration who does not see, uh, an obligation to work on a legislative solution for undocumented young people. Um, almost immediately after the Supreme court decision today, uh, president Trump tweeted, uh, actually a couple of different tweets, um, signaling his dissatisfaction with the Supreme court ruling and perhaps previewing a series of steps that we may see in the coming days and weeks and months to try to unwind DACA again.

Speaker 1: 03:47 Right. Uh, he, uh, I wanted to specifically say one of those tweets, uh, the president said these horrible politically charged decisions coming out of SCOTUS are shotgun blast to the face of people, proud to call themselves Republicans and conservatives. That's part of the president's response today. Also wanted to get some response here, uh, from local Republicans, uh, Tony Clark, the head of the local Republican party here in San Diego County. I gave a statement to KPBS on his reaction to the ruling quote, president Obama created the DACA program out of thin air by executive order. Anything less than legislation passed by Congress is a slap in the face of legal immigrants who painstakingly follow the rules to come to America. So we wanted to get some of those voices in now, president Trump, Tom was, was using DACA as leverage early in his term and dealing with Democrats on immigration, explain how that went.

Speaker 2: 04:43 Yeah. So after the rescission of DACA, both parties, uh, started working on a legislative solution, uh, towards the end of 2018, there was hope that there could be some sort of bipartisan bill passed that would provide a legislative solution to DACA recipients. Part of that hope was a trade off that on the one hand Democrats would be getting a legislative solution, so legal status for undocumented young people. But on the other hand, president Trump would get his border wall. And so as soon as the parameters of those negotiations were defined, the negotiations collapsed fairly quickly because there was little appetite, um, on both sides to actually move from either here's a issue that needs to be resolved, which is the legal status of undocumented young people. Let's do that from the Democrat side. And then on the Republican side, it was a clear preference from the administration and from the president himself, uh, to make sure that if there was any legislative solution that would include funding for his border wall.

Speaker 2: 06:00 So the bipartisan attempt to, uh, attach the border wall, uh, to a legislative solution for DACA recipients, wasn't viewed as very bipartisan at all among Democrats. Uh, it was viewed as essentially the president, uh, using DACA to strong arm Democrats, into funding his border wall. Uh, it's also important to note that we actually have a legislative solution that has been passed in the house in 2019, the house passed the dream act. So the American dream and promise act has been voted up and is sitting, waiting for the Senate to take it up. But, um, despite the sort of optimism post this SCOTUS ruling, it doesn't seem like there's much appetite among GOP senators to take up legislation that would provide lawful status to undocumented immigrants, even if they are undocumented young people. Uh, we have November, 2020, uh, right around the corner. And there is concern among some within the GOP that taking on such legislation would not play well with their respective bases in an election year.

Speaker 2: 07:20 There are some dissenting voices though. So John Cornyn, a, uh, GOP Senator Senator from Texas, he is taking this opportunity to say that now is perhaps the time to think about a legislative solution and for the Senate specifically to take it up. And so a lot remains to be seen in terms of how this is going to unfold. We do not yet know the administration's next move. Is it going to try to resend DACA again, but do it lawfully this time under the administrative procedures act? Uh, we don't know whether or not the Senate is going to take up the dream act, which was passed in the house. And at the end of the day, the uncertainty is really about what's going to happen in November, 2020, but with all of that in the mix, we are, uh, guaranteed a very exciting, uh, November general election.

Speaker 1: 08:18 Well, I think nobody's going to argue with you on that. We can argue about a lot of things these days now, how might Trump use this DACA ruling in his campaign? Imagine if you will, what he might say at his upcoming and controversial rally planned for Tulsa on Saturday.

Speaker 2: 08:34 I think that the Trump administration, uh, president Trump himself, and some GOP, uh, legislators have already previewed how they are going to use this decision politically. So in one of the Trump tweets this morning, he is essentially conflating the Supreme court ruling with a concern about one second amendment rights. We saw similar language from rep Jim Jordan, a staunch Trump supporter. And so I think what we're seeing from the GOP is the use of the recent SCOTUS decisions, not just DACA, but also on LGBTQ rights to say that there is not now just executive overreach, uh, for example, with respect to DACA and president Obama, but that the Supreme court hangs in the balance and therefore reelect Trump in 2020. So I think we are seeing what the game plan is there. That is a base strategy because one of the things that we have seen over the course of the lifespan of DACA from June, 2012 to present is polling so consistent polling from some of the more reputable firms in the U S that shows bipartisan support, at least among the general public for providing legal status to DACA recipients.

Speaker 2: 10:01 So the most recent poll that I have seen comes from Pew and that was done in the first week of June. Uh, so it shows nearly three quarters of the country supporting legal status for undocumented young people who were brought to the country illegally. And when we think about the cross tabs, when we think about, you know, where Democrats are versus where Republicans are, what's important, there is that you get a majority of registered Republican voters also supporting a legislative solution for undocumented young people. And so the way that the president is playing the SCOTUS decision right now, it is very clear that it is a base strategy, but it also seems to be just a very sort of particular part of his base, given poll after poll, after poll showing Republican support for DACA recipients and for legal status for undocumented youth. I think part of what we've also seen this morning, especially from, uh, that tweet from rep Jim Jordan.

Speaker 2: 11:08 And he also has recently released a, a written statement as well, to accompany that tweet there's dissatisfaction with chief justice, John Roberts. So when we think about, um, conservatism among the GOP, what we're seeing with the Trump administration and with the sort of response to the SCOTUS ruling is that there are fractures within the GOP that I think define the more traditional, compassionate conservatism, uh, that we, you know, have, uh, you know, maybe, uh, able to attribute to, uh, folks like Reagan and, uh, you know, the Bush presidencies and a very distinct brand of Trump conservatism. And we're at an inflection point, where are we as a country? Are we willing to sort of move with Trump, uh, to that, uh, new brand of conservatism or will Republicans kind of hold the line akin to chief justice Roberts seemingly holding the line? Whereas, uh, Trump appointees, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, um, are telling the line

Speaker 1: 12:19 now, what about Joe Biden and the Democrats, uh, what might they say in their campaigns heading toward the November election?

Speaker 2: 12:25 Well, I think the, the, the democratic platform has been sort of clear and consistent, uh, for not just several months now. So not just thinking about the democratic primaries and the democratic, uh, presidential debates, but I mean, it's been consistent, uh, for nearly a decade when we had the first dream act vote in Congress. When we think about the Supreme court ruling for DACA recipients, the broader context here is legal status for undocumented immigrants in general, and for the first 2010 dream act boat, that was, uh, that made it through the Senate, but died in the house. There are clear partisan divides from 2010 dream act vote to present. So those clear partisan divides pit Democrats voting overwhelmingly in support and Republicans voting overwhelmingly, uh, against. And when we think about the different pillars, uh, that comprise U S immigration policy, whether it be legal admissions policy, uh, asylum on policy refugee policy, uh, as well as immigrant integration policy, the last decade has seen very sticky, partisan voting trends.

Speaker 2: 13:43 When we look at the yeses and the nos on major pieces of immigration related legislation. And so I think what we're going to see from the Democrats is a continued call for comprehensive immigration reform. Uh, the 2013, uh, bill in the Senate had both legal status for undocumented immigrants, as well as more enforcement interior enforcement, as well as, uh, increased resources for border security. So I think what we're going to see from Democrats is a renewed call for comprehensive immigration reform. I think Democrats will also use this opportunity to say that because the general public, I think, is being, becoming more, uh, knowledgeable and sophisticated when it comes to trying to understand our dysfunctional Congress. And so I think what Democrats may do is say, look, if you want comprehensive immigration reform, it's not just about the president who signs a piece of legislation, but it's also about that house majority. And it's also about that Senate majority.

Speaker 1: 14:50 I've been speaking with political science professor, Tom Wong of UC San Diego. Thanks very much. Thanks for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.