St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

President Donald Trump has long toyed with the idea of mass-deporting immigrant youths for reasons that never made sense. The 800,000 undocumented youths known as Dreamers pose no security dangers. Business leaders describe them as important workforce assets.

Last week, the administration punted the long-term Dreamer problem to Congress. These are young people whose parents brought them here illegally and who, for the most part, know no other country. Deporting them would stand as an act of overt cruelty to a group whose academic and work performance exceeds that of the U.S.-born population.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that President Barack Obama’s 2012 protective order, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is legally indefensible because it effectively orders immigration authorities not to enforce existing law when it comes to Dreamers.

Yet the administration proposes to honor existing DACA protections for six months and says it will review renewal applications on an individual basis. If the program isn’t legally defensible, then what is the legal basis for allowing for renewals?

On the positive side, Sessions’ solution puts the onus where it belongs — on Congress — to come up with a permanent legal and humane fix. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had urged the president to leave DACA intact and let Congress work it out. Now Congress has a firm deadline, which past history suggests lawmakers badly need in order to stop continually kicking the immigration issue down the road.

The March deadline, however, places immigration as a front-burner issue in the 2018 campaign.

Trump has spoken compassionately about DACA youths, many of whom speak English as their primary language. Canceling DACA outright would be unfair because, unlike other undocumented immigrants, these immigrant youths came forward voluntarily and registered in order to qualify for protected status. It took guts to emerge from the shadows because the permit application effectively gave federal authorities all the information they needed to knock on their doors and round them up.

Any future immigration reform program that entails registering migrants for legalization status will now be met with high levels of distrust. Why come forward if the threat of even faster arrest and deportation could be the result?

Scores of the nation’s top business leaders have urged Trump and Congress to keep DACA intact.

“More than 97 percent (of DACA enrollees) are in school or in the workforce, 5 percent started their own business, 65 percent have purchased a vehicle, and 16 percent have purchased their first home,” their open letter said. “At least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees.”

The new threat of deportation promises to send these productive members of American society back into the shadows. The action is no solution. It’s a dodge.