The GOP’s Betrayal Of 4 Million Children Will Come Back To Haunt Them

By Rebekah Rodriguez-Lynn

As I tucked in my brilliant — and sensitive — 8-year-old nephew last week, he sleepily said:

“My papi is a citizen you know.”

“I know, baby. Why do you say that?”

“Donald Trump can’t kick him out.”

“That’s right, he can’t.”

“But what about my uncles? Are they all citizens?”

“Some are and some aren’t, sweetheart.”

“Oh, man.”

***

Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump’s message as he dominates the news media is clear, and was established from the very start of his political campaign. In June 2015, on the day he announced his bid for the presidency, Trump took to the podium and said, infamously:

“When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you.They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

His rhetoric is well known to the Hispanic American community; according to a May 2016 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Clinton is leading Trump by 48 points among Hispanics.

But American children with Mexican ancestry are also listening closely — and they’re frightened. Anti-immigrant speech isn’t abstract for them. It stokes the well-founded fear that their mother or father could vanish at any moment. Immigrant parents are deported every day regardless of clean criminal records, long work histories, and the presence of American spouses and children. Children come home from school, drop their backpacks, and realize with horror that mom or dad is gone. Their childhoods are irreparably damaged, and no one bothered to take their rights into consideration.

On November 20, 2014, President Obama took action to address the crisis facing these children. He unveiled his executive action that included a new program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). DAPA would temporarily protect some unauthorized immigrants from deportation. In order to qualify for those temporary protections, unauthorized immigrants must have at least one American child and meet certain residency and background check requirements. Up to 3.7 million immigrants could qualify for this relief. That’s the number most publications print. But they are burying the lede.

DAPA has almost nothing to do with the unauthorized immigrants who would qualify for the program. DAPA was created to benefit the estimated 4.1 million American citizen children who depend on them for survival.

DAPA would stabilize these children’s families by protecting their parents from deportation for three years, or until a more permanent solution is passed by Congress. After President Obama’s announcement, those children briefly had hope. But almost immediately, a Texas-led coalition of 26 states — all with Republican governors — sued the Obama administration to put a stop to the order. They strategically chose courts helmed by ideologically friendly judges and, as they won in lower courts, the Obama administration appealed. The lawsuit traveled all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Then, on June 23, the Supreme Court released a 4–4 decision, leaving the lower court’s ruling against President Obama’s executive order in place. The justices gave no reason and set no precedent.

Americans who noticed the headlines may have thought about the immigration debate. They may have even reflected on what it means to be American. The 4.1 million children did not have that luxury. They worried for their families’ survival. It is well-documented that children with immigrant parents suffer from anxiety and depression related to factors including the potential loss of a parent.

Studies show that even Mexican-American children who do not understand immigration status, or whose parents are authorized immigrants, experience intense fear that a parent will be deported when they are exposed to xenophobic speech.

And if a parent is deported or detained, the effects on children are nothing short of disastrous. According to a 2015 Urban Institute study funded by the U.S. Department Health and Human Services, children with deported or detained parents:

“became depressed, which led to deteriorating physical health and performance in school. Study participants reported that children refused to eat, pulled out their hair, or had persistent stomachaches and headaches. Others turned to more self-destructive outlets such as cutting themselves or abusing drugs.”

But I don’t need a study to tell me that. My son is the child of an unauthorized immigrant known to him as Dad. A few months ago I was pulling into the drugstore when my son asked me a question.

“Hey mom?” he asked. “I heard about Obama’s immigration thing. Is that gonna help dad?”

“Yes honey, it could. He meets the criteria. But we can’t get too happy yet.”

“Why?”

“Well, I mean, the Republicans are suing to stop it.”

“What?” his face whipped around with a look of shock. “Why would they DO that?”

That’s a good question. In Texas alone, there are 560,000 potentially DAPA-qualified, unauthorized immigrant parents. That translates to close to 1 million Texans under 18 years old who are American citizens — almost every one of them natural born citizens — who would benefit dramatically from DAPA.

Has the governor of Texas explained himself?

Has he given them a meaningful reason why their law-abiding, long-term resident parent (two conditions of DAPA) is such a threat to America that they should be denied the security and safety that every child deserves? I understand that children do not vote. But when a government action essentially drops a bomb into your living room, do you ever forget it? Just blink. These children will be adults at your door.

My son will be one of those adults in four short years. In that one crystalline moment in the drugstore parking lot, the Republican Party became irrevocably synonymous with cruelty in his mind. The outcome of the lawsuit affected his access to a devoted and loving person who lives for his care and protection. It affected his ability to remain with the man who is guiding him into manhood.

His father is half of the foundation upon which he stands. His father was his first hero. So no matter where he goes or how he grows, he will never forget. He is a bright, tenacious, intensely loyal young man and I can guarantee that the Republican Party will feel the full force of his opposition for the entirety of his adult life. And he will not be alone. Millions of his peers will be standing with him.

I wonder if the Republican Party is ready for them?

***

When the Supreme Court issued its split decision this past June, Americans of all ages reeled in shock, grief, and rage. But in theory, all is not lost.

The reason a tied vote was possible was because there are an even number of justices on the court due to a vacancy. Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016, and Republicans in the Senate have refused to hold confirmation hearings to fill the vacancy. They are waiting to see who wins the election in November.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, has publicly supported President Obama’s executive order on immigration. If she is elected, she would appoint the final Supreme Court justice, and the court could hear the case again and issue a new decision. In fact, the Obama administration has already asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the case. There is precedent for second hearings, but there is no guarantee.

Alternately, individual states could sue on the grounds of economic losses as a result of the decision, much like Texas did. However, if Trump is elected, he could immediately vacate any executive order issued by the previous administration. He has publicly lambasted DAPA, so it is fair to assume that he would. At that point, the Republican Party would hemorrhage the potential support of young Latinos — the fastest-growing segment of the Unites States population. If there is a faster way to ensure your future political irrelevance, I haven’t heard of it.

But before November, until every avenue for DAPA’s implementation is exhausted, my son will be one of the 4.1 million children holding onto any flicker of hope for its success. And if it succeeds, the Republican Party might want to thank the Lord for unanswered prayers. Because these kids will be formidable opponents. Underestimating them would be a mistake. Believe me. I am raising one of them.

***

Lead image: flickr/ Vegar Samestad Hansen

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