Following President Trump's decision to rescind DACA, a program created by the Obama Administration to help minors who came to the U.S. illegally stay in the country, 3 News Now reporter Maya Saenz interviewed Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson on his thoughts.
Earlier this year, Peterson joined nine other states in threatening to sue the administration if DACA was not rescinded.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Q: What was your reaction to today’s announcement regarding the elimination of DACA? Is that a decision you were hoping for?
A: Well yes it is. What’s important to understand is what we’re challenging here is the president’s use of executive order. Executive Orders have a limited purpose and when it happened with the DACA act, they expanded law. And for the president to expand law is a dangerous thing. You may agree with an executive order on one thing where the law got expanded, but if you give the president that much authority, there will be other issues in which the president may use executive orders and once again, expand beyond the law, which is what happened with DACA. And then you have a real problem because if you don’t like the law, it’s going to have to be challenged. So I know this is a very emotional issue, but what I'm trying to stress is that, look, you can't give the president this much power using executive orders, because if you do, it takes out of the balance of power. This issue has always been with Congress - and Congress needs to take all those stories that people talking about that I'm well aware of, and they need to address it by legislation. You can’t do it by executive order because it gives too much power to the president.
Q: Are you expecting Congress to now find a permanent solution for DREAMers in the next six months?
A: Exactly. I think what’s I think what's the effect of what we as attorney generals did in this particular case, is we made it very clear, that Congress, this is your responsibility. You can't shirk it. You can't say, well the executive order covers it because our constitution never allowed for that. The constitution clearly says that Congress has the responsibility to make all laws regarding immigration.
Q: Do you think it’s fair for DACA, a program that impacts nearly 3,000 Nebraskans and their families, to be terminated?
A: Well I think what's fair is all of those compelling stories need to be taken to the floor of Congress, and our House of Representatives and U.S. Senators need to address this issue with permanent law. That was the other problem; people were living in a very tentative situation with the executive order. It was never meant to be addressed by executive order; it needs to be addressed by Congress.
Q: Back tracking to the letter you and nine other attorneys general signed over the summer, asking the Trump administration to end the DACA program by September 5th – why did you feel it was important to include Nebraska and your own signature in the letter?
A: The reason that I decided that it was important was because we were part of the original lawsuit. And the original lawsuit was based on those same constitutional principles that dealt with DAPA. And we were successful on that DAPA legal argument. DACA is exactly the same. I couldn't make a distinction saying, well, with the DACA situation, that's far more emotional - I'll just give it a pass. If we start giving passes and picking and choosing which executive orders we want, that will completely destroy the structure of the constitution, it'll give far way too much power to the president, and it will diminish the role and responsibility of Congress.
Q: Your decision to include Nebraska in that 10-state coalition was publically criticized by DREAMers and lawmakers – Sen. Tony Vargas and 19 other state senators sent you a letter expressing their discontent on your position but you didn’t budge. What made you stay firm on your decision? Why not show more compassion?
A: Because I took an oath of office to uphold the constitution and I’ve got to be consistent on that. The thing I would say to people who are upset about this is take your compelling argument to Congress where it’s supposed to be addressed and that’s at the legislative level, not by unilateral action by the president. The problem is if people let this executive order pass, or any executive order pass in regards to making new law, which is what this DACA executive order did, then when do you pick and choose which executive orders you like or dislike, that's not the role that I took an oath of office for. I said I would uphold the constitution so when this issue was presented among the attorneys general, I couldn’t make a distinction – I had to stay true to my oath.
Q: What would you say to those nearly 3,000 DREAMers in Nebraska who are right now scared of their future in the U.S. – a place they consider home?
A: Well, I feel for them. I’ve heard these stories of these young people who’ve come here at ages two and three – that’s very difficult and emotional for me – very compelling stories, but those are stories that all three congressman, all two senators in Nebraska need to hear those stories so that they can properly address them through legislation and nationally address them in our immigration laws.
Q: You kind of took a risk in giving Congress six months to fix an immigration system that’s been broken for years. What makes you confident Congress will come back in six months with a resolution – and not leave these DREAMers without a solution?
A: It goes back to the same issue. If I find it emotionally appealing, do I let one executive order stand, and then another one I don't like - I have to be consistent. I can’t say to the constitutional language, which specifically says, Congress has a responsibility for passing all laws related to naturalization. I can’t simply say well, okay we’ll give a pass here. I think if you have bipartisan support – which I think we do have with bills being presented in the House and the Senate, tell those compelling stories to Congress and have them give some permanency to the law, but let’s not pick and choose which executive orders we do or don’t like because I can tell you, those now who some orders to stay in place, will eventually find an executive order they extremely disagree with and it’ll go back to being unconstitutional and I again will have to do what I did for this order and challenge it.
Q: Do you think your stance on DACA and the 10-state coalition will have any impact on your bid for reelection next year?
A: You know, people say this is political, and it's not. One of the things I'm pledged to do in my office is take the facts that are presented to me and the law that exists and do my job. I can't pick winners and losers and so it's inappropriate for me to take the oath of office and then look at what I see is clearly unconstitutional, and say well, politically it would probably hurt me, I need to let it go, or politically it will favor me, I can't play that game. I have to be consistent in upholding the law.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add or emphasize?
A: Well I hope people understand that when I took the oath for office, I took that very seriously. And so when I evaluate facts and the constitution, I have to do my duty. The good news right now is that this stands at a point in time in which those who support the old DACA, or the Bridge Act, and the DREAMers - this is their opportunity to take this moment and move forward to the legislative branch - move forward to Congress and tell their stories, because ultimately it's on their shoulders to let these youth stay in this country.