In Ending DACA, Trump’s Nativist Wing Plays Political Games With Kids’ Lives
On Tuesday morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will likely be announcing the Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more commonly known as DACA. The administration will terminate the program in six months, punting the fate of the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” to Congress.
The reason it’s AG Sessions making the announcement and not President Trump is perhaps two-fold. First, ending this program represents a flip-flop on the policy for the president who promised to not “go after” these kids, but instead focus his draconian deportation efforts on those with criminal records (as well as abuse victims, people in shelters, and anyone else ICE can get their hands on).
Second, and perhaps more importantly, is because it was reportedly Sessions who urged for this action, saying he couldn’t have the Department of Justice defending what he thought was an unconstitutional order. It also appears to be a sort of a return into Trump’s good graces for the immigration-hawk. If you recall, the president spent the better part of two weeks taking shots on Twitter at his AG for not obstructing the FBI investigation into his campaign.
The decision has sparked spontaneous protests across the country, including a candlelight “vigil” outside the Washington, D.C. home of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has criticized the decision, and so has the Anne Frank Center using terms like “ indefensible,” “vicious,” “child abuse,” and “unjust act of cruelty.” Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin said that the termination of the DACA program “would be Trump’s most evil act.”
The people who would be affected by this policy change are left fearful and worried about returning to life “in the shadows” without it. Cecilia, a mother-to-be who is protected by DACA, told CBS News that this decision will “rob” her of the opportunity to rebuild her life after losing everything in Hurricane Harvey.
There are hundreds of thousands of other stories just like Cecilia’s, and all of these young people — who came to the United States as children — now face certain and immediate deportation. This is not hyperbole, but rather the cold truth of what precisely the termination of the DACA program means.
When it became clear that immigration reform was not going to happen in Congress, President Obama issued the DACA order, and it is very stringent in how it protects these young undocumented Americans. For example, DACA is not a legal immigration status. DACA recipients cannot apply for any federal benefits (though they can qualify for state benefits). Males have to register for the draft, but are not eligible to voluntarily enlist in the military. They have to apply for a Social Security Number, and in updating their forms risked firing for lying to their employers about their immigration status.
DACA recipients lose their status if they break the law, and by telling the U.S. government precisely how and when they crossed the border illegally (again, as children who had no choice). The U.S. government has to prove that a person is undocumented before they can deport them for being here illegally. In DACA cases, they have all the information they need from the immigrants themselves.
In spite of all this, the program did allow these young people to live under their own names, openly and honestly. By ending DACA, President Trump is betraying the trust of the entire U.S. government with these people who willingly followed the rules because they see the United States as their home, even if the country itself does not.
They are facing this, either because the nativist elements within the Trump administration are playing political games with their lives. They wouldn’t mind ending the DACA program, but are apparently willing to let it live on so long as Democrats agree to allow U.S. taxpayer funding for the border wall.
As Politico reports:
[S]ome Republicans such as conservative Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas are openly floating trade-offs to protect DACA recipients, even as Democrats insist that Dreamers aren’t bargaining chips for tougher immigration restrictions. In the House, senior Republicans still believe there’s a possible deal to be struck with Democrats: codifying DACA in return for Trump’s sought-after border wall.
Either way, the Trump administration would walk away with a win: keeping his early campaign promise to be cruel to immigrant children or using taxpayer money to fund a border wall that will not work and no one but only the most spiteful want.
However, the plan that will be announced tomorrow is, according to The New York Times, the brain-child of Chief of Staff John Kelly, who had been working on this while he was Secretary of Homeland Security. Trump personally has no stake in this fight, but instead is being “pulled” in different directions by his nativists and staffers like Kelly, who support the program.
It’s possible that Kelly may hope to delay the DACA decision from inside the White House, punting it to Congress where it will languish, giving him the chance to sell the idea to President Trump that keeping DACA or, even better, reissuing the executive order but with a MAGA-ier name. He may also be thinking that given the way White House staffers come and go, the nativists or he may be gone in six months. Either way, it’s a delaying tactic similar to the kind Sec. James Mattis had to employ with Trump’s impetuous ban on transgender service members.
However, there is the nearly impossible chance that in kicking it to Congress, President Trump will force the legislative branch to act on the issue of immigration after stalling on it for decades. Perhaps the inefficiency of Congress over the past few years is why it is the most reviled of all three branches of the U.S. government.
If they were able to pass some compromise legislation, the Dreamers could end up in a better place than the limbo they found themselves in. A path to citizenship is likely out-of-the-question so long as the Republicans hold the reins, but some kind of legal immigration status is not.
There is always the question of whether or not Trump would sign such a bill if it were, miraculously, to make it to his desk. While no one can really know for certain, his actions during the healthcare fight seem to indicate Trump will support any bill that he can sell as a “win” for his administration. Of course this would require the kind of independent leadership from Congress that hasn’t existed since the mid-1990s or even longer, something that just may not be possible anymore.
There’s an argument that the Obama administration was ultimately trying to force Congress’s hand by issuing DACA and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program (which was successfully blocked by the courts). There is no question they are bad policy, because it leaves these folks in legal limbo and there is no end strategy. The Obama administration gambled, perhaps trusting their Republican counterparts with too much of a sense of responsibility, that Congress would be forced to act and “fixing” this bad policy would allow everyone a face-saving “win.” That, of course, didn’t happen especially when candidate Trump made open nativism a winning GOP primary strategy again.
But if Congress doesn’t act, and these kids are then opened to the threat of deportation — often to countries they left before their brains were old enough to even form permanent memories — the U.S. government gives immigrants no reason to ever trust the word of our government. It will chill all immigration (the nativist’s greatest hope), and could possibly make it more likely that those immigrants who do come to the United States, do so under false pretenses.
Because at the heart of all the strategy and political debate are nearly 800,000 people who face having everything they’ve ever built or known being ripped away from them seemingly out of undeserved spite.
In the Trump era, the people have been very capable at pressuring their representatives to not do something. The real test for #TheResistance will be if they can use these six months to convince them to do some damn governing.
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