Has Mr. Trump changed his mind about ‘dream­ers’?

Signs of ar­bi­trary and vin­dic­tive immigration ac­tions are grow­ing.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

IT WAS just min­utes af­ter Daniela Var­gas ap­peared at a news con­fer­ence this month in Mis­sis­sippi, declar­ing she would “con­tinue to fight this bat­tle as a ‘dreamer’ to help con­trib­ute to this coun­try,” that fed­eral immigration agents pulled her over. Two weeks ear­lier, agents had ar­rested her father and brother, un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, at the home they all shared, but let Ms. Var­gas be. Now she was the tar­get. “You know who we are and you know why we’re here,” they an­nounced omi­nously.

Ms. Var­gas, who is 22, ar­rived in the United States in 2002 as the 7-year-old daugh­ter of Ar­gen­tine im­mi­grants, who then over­stayed their visa. She had reg­is­tered in 2012 and 2014 as a “dreamer,” pro­tected un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, which grants tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion and work per­mits to mi­grants brought to the coun­try as young­sters through no fault of their own. Ms. Var­gas was in the process of re­new­ing that sta­tus, which she al­lowed to lapse last fall be­cause she didn’t have money for the fee, when she was picked up March 1.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion says “the shack­les are off” en­force­ment agents, who in turn have an­nounced that “morale . . . has in­creased ex­po­nen­tially” in their ranks. The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity warns that no “classes or cat­e­gories” of il­le­gal im­mi­grants are ex­empt from de­por­ta­tion.

In the case of Ms. Var­gas, ret­ri­bu­tion seemed to dis­place dis­cern­ment and judg­ment. Al­though she has since been re­leased, she still faces pos­si­ble de­por­ta­tion — a sta­tus difficult to square with Pres­i­dent Trump’s pro­fessed sym­pa­thy for dream­ers, and with his as­ser­tions that de­por­ta­tion ef­forts would pri­or­i­tize the “bad ones.”

Ms. Var­gas is a far cry from a “bad one.” A store man­ager who planned to earn enough to fin­ish her col­lege de­gree, she hoped to be­come a math pro­fes­sor, and she had no crim­i­nal record. She worked and paid taxes; she was Amer­i­can in ev­ery way but by birth. “I would do any­thing for this coun­try,” she told the Huff­in­g­ton Post.

Agents seemed to grasp that in Fe­bru­ary when they raided her home and picked up her brother, who has a crim­i­nal record, and her father, who doesn’t, but left her alone. That she would be the sub­ject two weeks later of what Immigration and Cus­toms En­force­ment called a “tar­geted immigration en­force­ment ac­tion” — di­rectly af­ter leav­ing a news con­fer­ence called by immigration ad­vo­cates in which she had ex­pressed con­cern about her fam­ily — looks like of­fi­cial vin­dic­tive­ness.

By pri­or­i­tiz­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants who were se­ri­ous and vi­o­lent felons, as well as re­cent bor­der crossers, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion frus­trated many ICE and Bor­der Pa­trol agents, who felt con­strained from mak­ing col­lat­eral ar­rests. Now, the dan­ger is that the pen­du­lum is swing­ing in the di­rec­tion of ar­bi­trary and sense­less en­force­ment. Agents re­cently have de­tained mi­grants with no crim­i­nal records, in­clud­ing out­side a church shel­ter in Alexandria. In sweeps last month, agents de­tained nearly 200 mi­grants with no crim­i­nal his­tory, in ad­di­tion to hun­dreds more with crim­i­nal records. The best means of avoid­ing such ex­cesses is for Congress to ex­er­cise ef­fec­tive over­sight, and soon.

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