It wasn’t heartlessness that moved President Donald Trump to lift protections for people who had been brought to the U.S. illegally when they were minors, his aides took pains to explain when he made the decision.
The president, they said, does not have the constitutional authority to give them work permits and immunize them from deportation. Congress has never passed a law granting legal status to the affected people. It’s up to Congress, a White House fact sheet said, “to responsibly address federal immigration law in an appropriate and constitutional manner.”
Trump’s aides are right about President Barack Obama. He did exceed his authority when he acted without congressional approval. Obama had himself previously said that while he thought that people who came here illegally through no fault of their own should have legal status, he did not have the power to grant it. Then he decided he wanted them to have it enough to ignore the formality of the law.
The White House is right, too, that Congress can fix the problem. It can pass a law to keep the affected group from being deported — perhaps as part of a deal that also includes some funding for barriers to illegal immigration at the Mexican border — and it should do so.
But the argument would be easier to credit if Trump were not continuing another Obama policy that raises similar constitutional issues: federal payments to health insurers to cover the cost of reducing co-payments and deductibles for customers with low incomes. Congress has never appropriated money to spend for this purpose.