For the whole of Donald Trump's short presidency, the DREAMers have lived in fear. These are people (called DREAMers because of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) who were brought to the United States without authorization as children, but have lived ordinary American lives since then. They were granted a quasi-legal status under President Obama, until Congress could provide a more official path to legal residence. Now, it appears that Trump will soon begin deporting them instead. Under pressure from the extreme right, Trump is reportedly going to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which currently protects hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.
This is monstrous.
Americans often boast about how our country is a unique beacon of freedom or other such piffle, and most of the time, it's complete nonsense. However, one area where America is unusual among developed countries is birthright citizenship. It's a legacy of the Reconstruction Amendments, which changed the United States from a slave empire to an actual republic.
The idea was to establish a fundamental bedrock of citizenship that could protect freed slaves from the violent depredations of ex-Confederates. Alas, that commitment didn't last — but the Fourteenth Amendment remained, and after the Civil Rights movement, genuine birthright citizenship that applied to everyone once again became a fundamental American institution.
But there are a large number of people who have fallen through a sort of loophole — brought here as young children, and raised here: the DREAMers. If people born here deserve to be citizens, then surely so do people brought here as babies. In every important respect, they are as American as they come — indeed, often they know no other place. America is their only home. As Duncan Black writes, deporting such people is "like kidnapping me and dropping me in Budapest."
That is why President Obama — despite his spectacularly awful record of mass deportation — started up the DACA system in 2012. People brought here as children could submit applications if they had a clean criminal record and were in school, or graduated, or joined the military; the government then used prosecutorial discretion to let them stay, and possibly work. It wasn't full legal status, and didn't cover everyone, but it was a sort of waystation — a stopgap measure before comprehensive immigration reform. But with Republicans in control of Congress, that never happened.
By American lights, DREAMers are the most sympathetic possible group of unauthorized immigrants. Deporting them is spectacularly unpopular — some 66 percent of Americans, and even 53 percent of Republicans — support the DACA program.
What makes Trump's likely decision to terminate DACA unconscionably cruel is how the program relied on people trusting the government. They sent detailed applications with addresses, family members, and job information. Now Trump might use that information to round them up. There are nearly 800,000 people in the crosshairs, many with families and children of their own. "We provided them with all our information. Now, if they take [DACA] away, I am scared to death that they are going to use that against us," Lorena Jofrey, a 34-year-old insurance agent and single mother, told Vox. "They know exactly where we work and where we live."
The racial angle here could not be more blatant. Trump's entire political rise has been underpinned by anti-Latino (and anti-Muslim) bigotry. He sprang to prominence accusing Mexican immigrants of being drug dealers and rapists, and his signature political idea is to build a giant wall across the southern border — and force the Mexican government to pay for it. To Trump, all unauthorized immigrants are from Mexico, and all or most of them are violent criminals who need to be rounded up and deported. Forget dogwhistling, this is about loudly stoking and profiting from explicit anti-immigrant bigotry.
Alas, there isn't much that can be done to stop Trump at the federal level. He is the president, after all. But for Democrats, it should drive home the vital necessity of passing immigration reform at the earliest possible opportunity — including instant permanent legal status for all the DREAMers at an absolute minimum. Obama thought by being Captain Deportation he could get Republican buy-in for reform. But it turns out that was really stupid. As with any other policy worth doing, it will have to be done by Democrats alone.