The Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is a cruel and cynical political ploy that puts the lives of nearly 800,000 young people who came to America as children in continued limbo.
Known as DREAMers, these young people have lived the bulk of their lives in the United States, but lack the security of full citizenship and under the constant threat of deportation to a country that is foreign to many of them. That they came as minors, accompanied by their parents or guardians who entered illegally, but through no actions of their own and have broken no laws on their own, seems to matter little to the hard-hearted bureaucrats in the administration.
“This is so difficult to put into words,” Isaac Montiel, a 28-year-old student at the City University of New York and DACA recipient, told me Monday, shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s decision. “We’re just people who want to continue our education and contribute to the success of the only country we’ve ever known.”
Montiel, a 28-year-old student at the City University of New York, said the White House’s decision represented more than lifeless legalism or bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. It’s about his life and how his future swings in the balance of political one-upmanship and a failure to carve out a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers.
Montiel said he came to the United States when he was 13 years old with his mother, who entered illegally from Pueblo, Mexico. “I grew up here, went to school here,” he said. “This is the only country I know.”
But if he loses the DACA protections that he’s enjoyed for the past five years, Montiel is likely to be kicked out of school and lose his internship with the New York City Department of Education, where he serves as a computer technician in a public high school. News of the impending administrative change in the DACA program spurred him to come to Washington, D.C. on Monday to protest outside the White House and, later, to join others in a four-day fast outside the U.S. Capitol.
The goal, he said, is to impress upon Congress — and the watching world — that DREAMers deserve legal protections.
“I think [Congress] understands our plight,” Montiel said. “But I don’t think they do to the point of making a decision to help us. We’re trying to appeal to their human side, trying to make them see the humanity of the people affected by this change in policy.”
“This is the only country I know.”
Indeed, Montiel’s fate and the hundreds of thousands DREAMers in the country now rests with Congress after the White House avoided settling it by passing the issue off to the federal legislature. In effect, the White House is playing games with the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people, like Montiel, who want to be a part of a country whose government has clearly indicated it doesn’t want them.
Whether Trump will actually move to deport the hundreds of thousands of DREAMers is unclear. It’s not even evident whether the president wants to deport any of the DACA recipients, as he’s offered mixed messages about his support of the program. During the run-up to his election, Trump pledged to end DACA as soon as he was elected. But once in office, he wavered and, at one point, offered words of support for DREAMers.
That all changed on Monday when Trump sent Sessions out before the cameras to deliver the bad news.
The attorney general, who has long been a thorn in the side of pro-immigration advocates, seemed downright gleeful at the opportunity to tell DACA recipients the administration no longer valued their presence in the country. But in announcing the Trump administration’s retreat from the Obama administration policy, Sessions allowed that Congress can act to help DREAMers stay in the country legally, if it chooses to do so within the six-month window before the change of policy goes into effect.
“Congress should carefully and thoughtfully pursue the types of reforms that are right for the American people,” Sessions said during a news conference Monday at the Justice Department. He added that “[t]he compassionate thing is to end the lawlessness, enforce our laws and, if Congress chooses to make changes to those law, to do so through the process set forth by our Founders in a way that advances the interest of the nation.”
To be clear, the White House’s decision on DACA is an effort by Trump to appease his base, while leaving him enough wiggle room to blame others — the Republican-controlled Congress, perhaps — if Congress is fails to resolve the nation’s immigration morass in the next six months. A troubled Trump White House exhibits an alarming pattern of pandering to a shrinking base of far-right white ideologues as failing he fails to deliver on promises such as repealing the Affordable Care Act, funding a border wall, or proposing a job-creating infrastructure program.
“Hopefully now Congress will be able to help them.”
— Andrew Beatty (@AndrewBeatty) September 5, 2017
Kica Matos, director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C., said the White House strategy is transparent political gamesmanship. “We expect the Trump administration will push Congress to move a DACA bill that is loaded with its regressive immigration enforcement agenda,” Matos said.
But immigrant rights groups aren’t fooled. Many reacted to the Sessions announcement with outrage and resolution to fight for the DREAMers.
“With this move, Trump is fulfilling a sick white supremacist scheme developed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to terrorize young people of color,” Cristina Jimenez, executive director of United We Dream, a leading immigrant rights organization, said in a statement. “But make no mistake — we will not be pushed into the shadows by these racist politicians. This is our home and we are here to stay.”
Montiel is ready and willing to raise his voice and make others recognize that he should be an American citizens.
“It’s important for us to keep fighting,” he told me. “We have to make all Americans understand the humanity of what we represent and to understand more fully what we contribute to this country. We’re working to be citizens and want to be a part of the American Dream.”