In June, Tennessee’s Republican Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III signed a letter demanding that President Donald Trump end DACA, a program that allows undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children to live and work here legally. Nine other Republican attorneys general, as well as one GOP governor, joined the ultimatum, which informed Trump that if he did not kill DACA by Sept. 5, the coalition would sue to block it in court. Trump says he will announce his decision on Tuesday. On Friday, however, Slatery publicly withdrew his demand and instead urged Trump to keep DACA—and to work with Congress to protect young undocumented immigrants.
Slatery announced his reversal in a letter to Tennessee’s two Republican senators, encouraging them to pass legislation that would codify DACA into law. (President Barack Obama created the program through an executive order.) While Slatery maintained that DACA constitutes illegal presidential overreach, he went on to explain that “[t]here is a human element to this … that is not lost on me and should not be ignored.” He continued:
Many of the DACA recipients, some of whose records I reviewed, have outstanding accomplishments and laudable ambitions, which if achieved, will be of great benefit and service to our country. They have an appreciation for the opportunities afforded them by our country.
“At this time,” Slatery concluded, “our Office has decided not to challenge DACA in the litigation, because we believe there is a better approach.”
The attorney general joins House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Orrin Hatch in exhorting Trump to maintain a program that, not too long ago, he condemned as unlawful and impermissible. This softening stance is partly the result of immigrant rights groups’ swift, nationwide mobilization in defense of DACA. It is also a reflection of the program’s success. Nearly 800,000 people have benefitted from it. Many of them work, attend college, and serve in the military. In every sense but one, they are Americans. And yet, if Trump ends DACA, they may be deported.
Republicans have opposed DACA since its inception. Now that the president might actually kill it, though, the political calculus has clearly shifted. Expelling thousands of high-achieving individuals from the country because their parents brought them here illegally would not be a popular move. In fact, even a majority of Republicans now support DACA. Slatery’s letter is an acknowledgement that the “human element” here should outweigh partisan concerns. We will find out on Tuesday whether Trump agrees.