The Hell of the Status Quo

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On February 22nd, The Economist featured an article provocatively titled “Deal or No Deal” in reference both to the struggles of Republicans and Democrats to agree on a legislative solution for Dreamers in the absence of DACA and to the man who deliberately fomented this crisis through his September 5th DACA rescission. Asking “What happens if Congress fails to make a deal on DACA by March 5th?” the article summarily concludes that “the likeliest outcome is a return to the status quo before 2012.” This open-and-closed encapsulation of the dire situation Dreamers currently face is a tweet’s length distillation of the article’s take-away point. Unfortunately, that message dangerously underplays the very real and immediate urgency of the March 5th deadline through a misleading invocation of “the status quo.”

The article fails to note the distinction between what the status quo means for Dreamers and what it means for its readers, nor does it elaborate on just how widely divergent these two vantage points are. Lacking proper context, most readers will interpret its references to the status quo as suggesting the ordinary and even the innocuous. Immigration enforcement policies both before and after DACA have likely had minimal direct impact on their daily lives. Consequently, a return to the status quo, while not optimal, becomes acceptable. The need for a Dream Act by March 5th becomes less essential, lines previously drawn can be smudged or even erased, and further delays are forgiven.

For nearly six months, an inexcusable number of Republicans, Democrats, and pundits have used the March 5th deadline to justify repeated postponements to any vote on a Dream Act. The closer we draw to this date, the more crucial immediate legislative action becomes. Any version of the Dream Act will require significant time on the legislative side both to articulate and then implement and on the Dreamer side to apply for and then be processed. Even if the Dream Act were to pass today, anyone with DACA who falls out of status during this impending months-long transition period will be subject to deportation. These would be in addition to the estimated 122 DACA recipients every day since September 5th who are now liable to deportation because of Trump’s decision.

The refusal by the Supreme Court on February 26th to preside over the Trump administration’s challenge to lower court rulings against the DACA rescission is being spun as an easement of pressure on Congress to meet the March 5th deadline. DACA renewal applications are again being accepted as the case starts its slow trudge through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the fact that new applications are not possible, and that otherwise eligible Dreamers now languish in a constant danger of deportation, goes unremarked. Without this proper context, the temptation is to applaud the judicial branch of government as savior, celebrate the system of checks and balances, and then move on.

Meanwhile, Dreamers have not been “saved” and their crisis has not been averted. The court injunction is a temporary stopgap and certainly not a permanent or even long-term solution.

Although The Economist article predates this SCOTUS development and political spin, the underlying premise that missing the March 5th deadline will have anything other than catastrophic consequences is the same. To speculate that “the law will return to where it was before 2012” without a detailed account of what “where it was” actually entails is not only disingenuous but also patently false. Failing to secure new protective legislation does not result in a simple reset of circumstances.

What goes unmentioned is just how bad the status quo for undocumented immigrants pre-DACA was and how much worse it is now. The administration in power today openly and actively pursues policies laced with nativist vitriol and directed specifically against these and other vulnerable communities. The number of Dreamers who become subject to deportation increases drastically once we cross the March 5th threshold, meaning more broken hearts, more broken homes, and more broken families, all of which would have been avoided had Congress acted responsibly. It is imperative that we provide protection via a Dream Act now to minimize the cruel and needless suffering that will unquestionably follow.

Immigration enforcement between the two administrations relative to Dreamers is categorically different by unthinkable orders of magnitude. While Obama oversaw massive deportation efforts, he also prioritized certain categories of undocumented immigrants as targets, effectively shielding others deemed non-threatening through a relative de-prioritization. Trump on the other hand has obliterated any such distinctions in a policy shift infamously articulated by Acting Director of I.C.E. Thomas Homan, who threatened “you should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” Anyone present without authorization is now a target.

Furthermore, applying for DACA meant giving the government sensitive information that could, if abused, compromise not only the applicant but also her family members. The decision to apply was an incredibly difficult one to make, and some eligible applicants refused the opportunity to gain protections because of it. The Trump Administration has poured guilt and gasoline on this fear of potential betrayal. No one in this country should believe that Trump will not use this information in deportation efforts. The mental and emotional strain of worrying about imperiled family and friends above and beyond the stress of trying to lead a “normal” life cannot be overstated. This is a glimpse of their status quo. It was unbearable before DACA and it has become significantly worse now.

The invitation to “come out of the shadows” in 2012 required trust from a community with no reason whatsoever to be trusting, offered hope to communities tormented by false hopes since 2001 saw the specter of a Dream Act first rise. The mobilization efforts by activists have been unprecedented in a prolonged campaign whose fevered pitch has been sustained past the breaking point since long before the September rescission. Dreamers are in the public eye and in the public mind in a way they never have before, and the passage of a Dream Act has overwhelming public support.

To be stranded again without the protections of a Dream Act, to be lied to once more by those who claim to care, who support as long as it’s convenient or earns them quick political points, to be told in so many words that you just don’t matter would not only be psychologically traumatizing, but would also place these young people in the precarious situation of deportation to a country many don’t remember and in which none belong.

A world where we break that trust, where we reward honesty and integrity with persecution and deportation, where life is once again burned down and swept back into the shadows is not a return to any sort of status quo. Failing Dreamers is neither an act we can be proud of nor the act of a country of which we can be proud. Dreamers are not numbers. The urgency is real.