When Donald Trump announced his decision to end DACA—former president Obama’s program to protect the so-called Dreamers from arrest and deportation—in six months and threw the issue to Congress, he pleased his core supporters. However, it turns out that for many Americans, the issue of keeping or cancelling DACA is not the same as the question of what to do about the Dreamers.
These are the conclusions the most recent survey research suggests.
In early September, the Economist/YouGov poll asked a random sample of Americans what they thought about DACA, which the survey researchers characterized as a policy that grants temporary protection to law-abiding children and young adults were brought into the country at an early age by illegal immigrants. 55 percent of the respondents approved of DACA, compared to 27 percent who disapproved. Those who approved included 70 percent of Democrats, 53 percent of Independents, and 43 percent of Republicans, but just 34 percent of those who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. At first glance, these findings suggest that the president and his supporters in the Congress eventually will have to choose between pleasing a majority of the people and satisfying their base. But the underlying reality is more complex. A Politico/Morning Consult survey conducted within days of the Economist/YouGov poll found that 58 percent of Americans want the Dreamers to be allowed to stay in the United States and become citizens if they meet certain requirements. An additional 18 percent think the Dreamers should be allowed to become legal residents but not citizens. Only 15 percent think they should be removed or deported.
The breakdown of the 76 percent who want the Dreamers to remain either as citizens or permanent legal residents is revealing. It includes 84 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents, 69 percent of Republicans—and two-thirds of self-identified Trump voters. 60 percent of the voters who “strongly approve” of Mr. Trump’s performance as president want the Dreamers to be allowed to stay, compared to 33 percent who want them to be deported.
So this episode could turn into a win both for the president, who kept faith with his supporters by cancelling DACA, and for Congress—but only if Congress passes, and the president signs, a bill allowing the Dreamers to remain in the country legally and permanently.
How can we explain the gap between the sentiments of Republicans and Trump supporters concerning DACA on the one hand and the resolution of the Dreamers’ status on the other? Based on the research so far, it is hard to say. One plausible conjecture is that some people opposed DACA because they saw it as the act of a president of whose administration they deeply disapproved. Another conjecture is that others disapproved of DACA because they regarded it as an unconstitutional extension of executive power.
In any event, Republican leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who have spoken sympathetically about the plight of the Dreamers, should find a way of getting their troops to yes on this issue, the sooner the better. If Congress takes its bearings from the sentiments of the American people as a whole, it will send the president a bill that enshrines protections for the Dreamers into law, an action to which even Mr. Trump’s base is unlikely to object.