With a glint in his eye befitting a teenage boy who just discovered Pornhub, Attorney General Jeff Sessions—a man deemed too racist for the federal bench thirty years ago—announced Tuesday that the Trump administration was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama program that protected nearly eight hundred thousand immigrants, including twenty-seven thousand in North Carolina, who came to the U.S. as children from deportation and granted them two-year work permits. He did so because President Trump was too chickenshit to swing the ax himself, instead shuffling off the duty to a small-minded bigot who receives a peculiar thrill from screwing over brown people.
Kicking them out won’t make our country any safer or more prosperous. It will, however, demonstrate that we are profoundly meaner and more capricious than we imagine ourselves to be. That’s especially the case if the administration decides to use the DACA data recipients have submitted over the last five years to expedite their deportations, something the talking points the White House circulated after Sessions’s announcement indicated was a distinct possibility.
I should also note that much of what Sessions said about the program during his speech was blatantly false. DACA does not provide “legal status” to undocumented immigrants. Unlike those with legal status, DACA recipients don’t automatically receive work permits; they have to apply every two years, at a cost of $500. And DACA did not contribute to a surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border; that had more to do violence and poverty inside the minors’ countries of origin.
In any event, the administration gleefully refusing to even try to defend DACA gives the game away: They didn’t have to do this. They chose to do it. The president’s nativist base mattered more than vulnerable immigrants. And now we have a crisis of Trump’s own making.
The Republican spin is that they’re not targeting Dreamers, but rather returning to the rule of law and the separation of powers. President Obama, they argue, acted improperly when he bypassed Congress and took executive action. The better route is for Congress to pass a bill.
It’s true that the weight of actually governing, as opposed to being the opposition, can compel politicians to act. So too could the political ramifications of essentially signing a deportation order for three-quarters of a million people. But already a Republican hardliner, Representative Steve King of Iowa, has fretted that delaying the end of DACA amounted to “Republican suicide,” and anti-immigrant pressure groups are rallying their forces to convince the GOP Congress not to “cave.” Indeed, by Tuesday afternoon, only nine congressional Republicans were on board with a clean legislative fix to Trump’s DACA mess.
While a clean DACA bill would likely pass both the House and Senate, it might not win support from a majority of each chamber’s GOP caucus, which means Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are unlikely to bring it up for a vote. Their standing in the party matters too much for them to do the right thing.
Besides, even if they do, the Trump administration has signaled that the president doesn’t want a clean DACA bill. He wants to use DACA recipients as bargaining chips instead. So what you’re likely to see is an attempted “compromise”—emphasis on the scare quotes—in which the lives of eight hundred thousand people are bartered for either funding for Trump’s idiotic wall or the RAISE Act, a reprehensible bill that would both cut legal immigration and effectively limit it to English speakers.
Neither is acceptable. Neither is moral.
If that fails, Trump tweeted Tuesday, he’ll “revisit this issue” in six months—cold comfort to the immigrants now left in limbo, their futures and dreams left to the president’s caprice. And it’s not like Trump’s decision won’t have immediate impacts. Indeed, the government will stop taking DACA applications, will prevent most recipients from seeking two-year extensions, and will stop processing DACA renewals next month. Some DACA recipients will be eligible for deportation come March—unless Congress or the president intervenes.
Also, it’s not altogether clear how Trump will even be able to revisit DACA after his attorney general spoke at length about how it was unconstitutional. That, in fact, is the administration’s entire rationale for its action: the threat of a lawsuit forced its hand. But either the program is legal or it’s not. If it’s not, there’s nothing to revisit. If it is, and if Trump really does “have a love” for Dreamers, then what the hell are we doing here other than simply being malicious?
Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!
What we’re seeing is the unavoidable result of government by horrible people, bullies without a scintilla of empathy or compassion who’ve gained power by appealing to America’s basest impulses—bigotry, nativism, fear of the other—and aim to keep it by gut-punching the vulnerable.
In a statement Tuesday, Barack Obama pinpointed the root issue: “Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people—and who we want to be.”
The White House, unfortunately, is devoid of that basic decency. It proved that Tuesday. It proved it last month after Charlottesville. It proved it when the president attacked transgender service members. It proved it when the president sought to finance a tax cut for the rich by eviscerating Medicaid. It proved it with the Muslim ban. It proved it when Trump hired Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller.
In less than eight months, the White House has given us all the proof we need: the administration has a festering moral rot, and, like a fish, the rot starts at the head.
P.S.: The Republican Party wasn’t always led by men like this. Check out the video below.
VIDEO: George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan in 1980 debate fighting over who would be more compassionate to children of undocumented immigrants pic.twitter.com/KXBwRRA4Ee