Trump Plays Nativist Politics with Dreamers’ Lives

The White House’s “Immigration Policy Priorities,” announced on Oct. 8th, is a poison pill that would destroy any bipartisan deal on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Back in 2012, Pres. Obama signed the executive order on DACA permitting undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to legally stay and work. 800,000 young applications, often called Dreamers, enrolled in DACA. Applicants have to be in school or employed, pass a background check, and pay a fee for the (heretofore) renewable two-year application.

In September, Republican Attorneys-General from nine states threatened to challenge DACA’s constitutionality. Rather than defend the executive order in court, the Trump administration announced that DACA status would be gradually rescinded starting in six months (March 2018). Every Dreamer, who trusted our government with their personal information, will lose their work permit and/or federal student aid by 2020 unless Congress passes legislation upholding DACA.

Polls show a strong majority of American support legal status for Dreamers; most would agree with Pres. Obama that “Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” And Pres. Trump initially sympathized with Dreamers and offered them assurances that they need not fear deportation, and even he was dumbfounded as to why anyone would favor deporting them.

A bipartisan deal to ensure the continuation of DACA in exchange for additional security on the U.S.-Mexico border appeared inevitable. That is until the president buckled to pressure from anti-immigration proponents within and outside his administration. (The otherwise sycophant pro-Trump website Breitbart branded the president “Amnesty Don” for his support of Dreamers.) The president has now issued 70 “Immigration Policy Priorities” to be included in any legislative action on DACA; including taxpayer funding for a border wall, cutting legal immigration by half, penalizing so-called sanctuary cities that offer services to undocumented immigrants, and establishing a “merit-based immigration system.”

It is not clear if the president is playing cynical politics with Dreamers’ lives by pandering to his nativist base while knowing that his demands have no realistic shot in Congress, or if he’s playing hardball on an emotional issue hoping to browbeat Democrats into accepting his anti-immigration proposals for the sake of preserving DACA.

49% of Americans oppose a wall on the southern border and only 32% support it, and Democrats will never let it pass the Senate. Similarly, a drastic cut in immigration is not only bad policy but also politically untenable with both Democrats and Republicans who know that immigration is a source of economic growth. Additional, punitive measures on “sanctuary cities” will be met with bipartisan opposition. Even Republican-dominated states would fall foul of Trump’s standard. Texas, for instance, mandates in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants. Lastly, Trump’s ostensibly merit-based immigration would curtail many of the immigrate workers we need in agriculture and construction. Moreover, the point-based system would consider “factors that allow individuals to successfully assimilate” in the country. There is no definition of what those factors would be, and any standard would be inherently biased and arbitrary. The last part should alarm Arabs and Muslims since many of Trump’s advisors believe that Arabs and Muslims are somehow incompatible with American culture; an ignorant and prejudicial allegation contrary to the evidence that American Muslims “rapidly adopt U.S. social values.”

Trump’s “priorities” will scuttle any attempt at a bipartisan deal on DACA since the president’s demands are “anathema” to Democrats, in the words of their Senate leader Chuck Schumer, and even amongst many Republicans, his pill would be too hard to swallow.

Congress is capable of passing legislation supporting DACA without the president’s approval. If the president vetoes it, Congress must override it.

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