America is a noble idea, and on Tuesday, President Trump crushed it. He ended DACA, the policy that provides safety and work permits to 800,000 Dreamers—young undocumented immigrants who arrived as kids and now are working, studying, and contributing to the only country most have ever known.
This is a national disgrace. It will go down as one of the darker moments in our history. It will take its place alongside the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the turning away of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust in the 1930s, the deportation of Mexicans—citizens and noncitizens alike—during the 1930s and the 1950s. In the future, our children and their children will ask those of us from this generation how this ugly decision came to be and what we did to overturn it.
There is no animating principle or moral compass behind the decision. These kids have done nothing wrong and just about everything right. And now the full force of the federal government is about to come down on them to deny them the ability to study in college, work legally, and live without fear of deportation.
Perhaps this is about throwing red meat to a rabid slice of the Trump base. Perhaps it’s about throwing out another Obama achievement. It’s certainly about throwing the lives of 800,000 Dreamers and millions of immigrant families into disarray.
In an act of political cowardice commensurate with the decision itself, Trump wouldn’t even show his face to announce the decision. Instead, he sent out Jeff Sessions to do two things. First, to pretend that the decision was prompted by a legal imperative and a deadline, neither of which is true. The “urgency to act” was completely manufactured. Sessions and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton used the threat of legal action, an arbitrary date, and the fear of having to defend an Obama executive action to force Trump’s hand.
Sessions’ second job was to trash talk immigrants with lines from the white nationalist playbook—they’re criminal, they’re security threats, they take jobs, and they hurt Americans. Following Trump’s handling of Charlottesville and his pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the end to DACA completed a trifecta of hate.
Welcome to what passes for governance in the Trump era: a racist attorney general announcing that hundreds of thousands of high-achieving kids of color should either go back to the shadows or get out of the country.
What happens now? Trump is trying to wash his hands of the issue and toss it to Congress. Perhaps he thinks that if nothing happens Congress will get the blame and not him. Perhaps he thinks it will pressure the Democrats to exchange relief for Dreamers for his stupid, unnecessary, and unpopular border wall. Certainly his minions, such as Sessions and White House aide Stephen Miller, along with fellow nativists in Congress, such as Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, hope to parlay concern over young immigrants into a deal that slashes legal immigration, mandates E-Verify, punishes so-called “sanctuary cities” and funds the border wall. They must be smoking that which Sessions wants to recriminalize.
The fact is that this is yet another self-inflicted crisis that is likely to blow up in Republican faces. Trump’s decision divides Republicans and heaps another self-made crisis onto the already crowded congressional table. The bipartisan DREAM Act, sponsored by Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham in the Senate and Lucille Roybal-Allard and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the House, enjoys majority support in both chambers. However, a majority of Republicans oppose anything that puts undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship. There’s a moment of truth ahead for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.
What happens if Congress doesn’t act? Then get ready for this horrible story to get much, much worse. Without legislation, in six months the media will be interviewing young Americans who are doctors, nurses, teachers, and medics boxing up their belongings and saying tearful goodbyes to co-workers; highlighting young Americans in college, graduate and professional schools walking away from universities as professors and college presidents protest the injustice of it all; and reporting on families scrambling to move from current addresses fearful that ICE will use information from applications to arrest their families in home raids.
The idea sears the soul. America, long described as a nation of immigrants, is on the verge of persecuting young people whose only mistake was to obey their loving parents, believe in the American Dream, and trust the confidentiality guarantees of the federal government.
The good news is that the public and constituencies from across the spectrum, from evangelicals and business to progressive groups and labor unions, are rising up to support the Dreamers. Perhaps there’s a chance societal pressure will overcome congressional dysfunction and we’ll overturn this despicable decision. If so, Dreamers will be formally and finally recognized as the Americans they already are.
Let’s hope so, for the Dreamers, and for the America that might yet be.