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Renée Graham

It’s not up to Obama to save DACA

President Barack Obama, center, standing with Vice President Joe Biden, right, listens as Diana Calderon, a student who has benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, speaks at a reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, in October 2015.Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Yes, Barack Obama denounced as “cruel” President Trump’s decision — via Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which allows undocumented immigrants who came as minors, known as “dreamers,” to stay in America.

But, no, Obama alone cannot rescue us from this immoral administration.

I don’t doubt that the former president has, like millions, watched in abject horror as the Trump presidency has not only impeded progress but also made every attempt to shove this nation backwards. As Obama’s tenure drew to a close in January, he said, “There’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake.” Only when Trump breached that line would Obama feel compelled to publicly oppose him — something former presidents generally avoid doing to their successors.

Listing those “core values,” Obama mentioned “systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion,” such as voter suppression, attempts “to silence dissent or the press,” and “efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them someplace else.”


Let’s ignore for a moment that “systematic discrimination” seems to be the guiding principle of the Trump administration. There are already sustained attacks on voting rights, the media, and dissenters. And that doesn’t even include Trump’s much-disputed Muslim ban or his attempt to bar transgender men and women from serving in the military. By his own standard, Obama could have openly criticized Trump every single day since Trump became this nation’s 45th president.

Yet dismantling DACA, which Obama established by executive action in 2012, is a bridge too far for Obama, who has kept a fairly low public profile since his presidency ended. This is what his ardent supporters have been waiting for, and some look to Obama as if he’s an exiled king returning to vanquish the villain who usurped his throne.


It’s a constant thread, especially on social media. Weeks into Trump’s presidency, someone tweeted: “Mom & Dad, when are you coming back from vacation? This babysitter is really weird.” Mom and Dad, of course, meant the former president and first lady, Michelle Obama, with Trump as that “really weird” baby sitter. It was a joke, but also a plea for Obama to somehow liberate us from this nasty, unstable administration that grows more frightening each week.

No matter how he defends DACA, Obama won’t save us. He can’t even save his own legacy, which Trump, one deplorable act at a time, is hell-bent on erasing. It’s not that he didn’t try to steer Trump in the right direction. In a handwritten note he left in the Oval Office, Obama told Trump, “Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.” Trump is doing no such thing.

The pressure to act is not on Obama. If he could remedy the mounting sins of this administration, he would. But he can’t.

Unfortunately, all we have is a recalcitrant Republican-led Congress that has shown little inclination to oppose Trump’s dire policies. Some GOP leaders have expressed dismay at DACA’s undoing, but whether they’ll pass legislation to protect it remains unknown. This is an unconscionable threat to 800,000 young people, who seek to continue their lives in the only country many have ever known.


As he said he would, Obama condemned the end of DACA. Yet the real fight will be waged in the courts, the streets and, we can only hope, the halls of Congress. Young dreamers define what it means to be good citizens, and it will be this nation’s sorrow if they are deported. The fault won’t lie with a former president who tried to make this country more equitable and just, but with spiteful, failed leadership and the complicity of our own inaction.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham