Yesterday, the Trump administration made the expected announcement that it would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, essentially placing some 800,000 people at risk for deportation from the only country they have ever known. In doing so, Trump is delivering the meat to the slavering xenophobe crowd which makes up a good portion of his cult, while at the same time tossing the ball to a disorganized and fractious Congress to deal with the bureaucratic, social, and economic chaos that must ensue. He has also dropped the shadow of dread on a category of American residents that in many ways hold the future of the country in the palms of their hands.
DACA began with an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in 2012 in response to the turmoil surrounding the issue of undocumented (illegal) immigrants. Particularly, it meant to provide a humane option for those who were illegally brought to the country as children by parents or guardians, and have been living as Americans ever since. DACA allowed such ‘stateless’ individuals to remain in the country, work, and attend school, thereby paving the way to eventual citizenship.
DACA was not a general amnesty for illegal immigrants as protection under the law came with relatively strict conditions and fees, but it did allow its beneficiaries to participate safely and positively in the society in which they had been brought up.
For its opponents, DACA represented the abandonment of the rule of law, the rewarding of illegal activity, and unfairness to those whose entry into the United States proceeded legally and in conformity with regulations. They argue that the program undermines the country’s ability to regulate the kind and number of immigrants it accepts and opens the door too widely.
The administration’s decision to end the DACA program has already drawn considerable criticism from business, Congress and civil rights groups and condemnation of the president has been swift, but it often misses the point. Trump really has no intention of deporting up to a million people and the manner in which the announcement was made clearly shows that while the President wants credit for fulfilling a contentious campaign promise, he has no intention of shouldering the blame for its consequences.
First of all, Trump eschewed the usual bombast and rhetoric with which he usually accompanies momentous announcements and handed the ball over to Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, proud scion of the Confederacy and the man once determined to be too racist to be appointed a federal judge. Sessions is an enthusiastic proponent of DACA, as he is of the rigid enforcement of all laws (of which he approves) and is the perfect choice to champion this position. Several state governments have already threatened to challenge the legitimacy of DACA in court and if the policy remained intact, it would have been his responsibility to defend it. This decision absolves him of that discordant adventure and frees him to unleash the over armed and equipped enforcement agencies to terrorize young people and drive families underground and off the official grid.
When the inevitable outrage over the short-sighted and cruel reversal hits the fan – and it has already begun – it will be up to lawmakers to deal with the problem Obama’s executive order dealt with after Congress proved incapable of doing so. In other words, it’s up to Congress to pass legislation to come up with a plan to which both immigration hardliners and immigration supporters can agree. Interestingly, this is precisely the situation that existed prior to DACA and Congress is precisely the institution where responsibility for it is lies.
Deporting hundreds of thousands of people who had previously been protected is not going to be easy in the first place and the entire process is rife with opportunities for corruption and abuse. It would have an incalculable effect of local and national economies as, in general, DACA beneficiaries (“Dreamers”) are not the typical migrant workerlabourer stereotype to which he was all become familiar, They are for the most part typical American young people – urban, educated, and possessing of that typical second-generation ambition that has shaped American progress. Major, advanced industries are slamming the decision and pointing out the key jobs that many of them currently hold, worsening a brain drain that began following Trump\s inauguration and subsequent travel bans.
It is clear that preventing a full enforcement of the law without DACA is in everybody’s interest and the President has not-so-subtly provided a brief grace period during which he expects Congress to pass suitable legislation to manage what is a sociological and legal nightmare.
We can expect a vigorous debate within the houses of Congress but this is not an assignment at which the august legislative body can afford to fail and unless common sense has abandoned American politics entirely, a reasonable solution can be found. This will require the acquiescence or sound defeat of hard-line, intractable rightwingers (itself not a bad result) but it is a social and economic imperative.
Congress will get little credit for passing legislation with a gun to its head and will get all the blame for its shortcomings, but regardless Trump will be able to claim a victory in fulfilling a campaign promise to his most ardent supporters, while blaming a ‘weakkneed’ Congress for its failure to live up to their expectations. It appears to be a win all around for the president, the first that be called that.
The Trump presidency has been marked by the imponderable – an apparently ill-informed egomaniac in the White House, a secretive, belligerent, and fractious team surrounding him, an aggressive and irresponsible war with the press, and a series of embarrassments on the world stage have all allowed us to assume that the Donald doesn’t know what he’s doing. The problem, however, is not that the President doesn’t know what he’s doing; it’s that we don’t know what he’s doing. We can be sure of one thing, though, he isn’t doing it for us.