DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is the newest policy in the crosshairs of the Trump administration. The program allows undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to obtain a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. In short, it’s a humane and realistic short-term solution to a problem that is bereft of a simplistic fix: what to do with children brought here as illegal immigrants through no fault of their own. To qualify, someone must have entered the United States before turning 16, lived in the country continually since 2007, and have committed no serious crimes. There are roughly 800,000 covered under this program, and Trump has now proposed deporting a group of people virtually equal in size to the population of San Francisco.
Because Donald Trump doesn’t have the capacity to feel empathy, and views everything within his purview as something to be used as leverage to please his white nationalist base, this program has been under threat since his inauguration. During the campaign, Trump vowed to “immediately terminate” DACA. To be fair, whether DACA is legal is a wholly legitimate question, and all evidence points to it being a classic example of executive overreach. Per the NYT:
In 2015, Texas and 25 other states won a federal court ruling blocking the Obama administration from extending deferred action to an estimated five million undocumented parents of children who were citizens or legal residents, as well as to young immigrants who arrived between 2007 and 2010. The ruling was upheld on appeal, and last year, the Supreme Court split 4 to 4, leaving the lower court’s decision in place.
The issue, as with almost all our problems, is that Congress did not move on this problem initially, so in order to create some sort of solution for those living in limbo, the Obama Administration acted unilaterally to try to fix it, and out of the failure of the Dream Act in Congress, DACA was born. This wouldn’t be the clusterfuck that it is if Congress had done their job in the first place, as a Republican involved in the policy negotiations told McClatchy: “Who cares about DACA if there’s a Dream Act.”
But alas, as countless policies have demonstrated over the years (like sequestration, a bill that passed which was intentionally designed to be too stupid to pass), Congress will not act on an issue until the penalty for inaction exceeds the benefits of apathy. Trump’s bluster and supreme idiocy may have changed that calculus. Per the NYT this morning:
As late as one hour before the decision was to be announced, administration officials privately expressed concern that Mr. Trump might not fully grasp the details of the steps he was about to take, and when he discovered their full impact, would change his mind, according to a person familiar with their thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity without authorization to comment on it.
Thanks to a combination of apathy on the part of Congress, along with Trump’s nativist instinct, a bunch of people who are de facto American citizens now find their legal status in jeopardy, as Jeff Sessions announced today that the administration would be ending the perilous middle ground set up by the Obama Administration known as DACA. Now that Trump has backed Congress into a corner where they must choose between mass deportations and doing their job, we’re beginning to see some action from the Kings of Inaction, at least through words.
To put the cherry on top of this sundae of madness, former Department of Justice spokesperson Matthew Miller pointed out that Jeff Sessions should not even have been a part of this announcement.
As Donald Trump confirmed in his statement announcing the cancellation of DACA, “the legislative branch, not the executive branch, writes these laws.” So why is the chief lawman in the executive branch the public face of this rescindment? It doesn't make much sense to have Sessions revealing this new policy, unless you look at this as yet another dog whistle to Trump's white nationalist base. Jeff Sessions has a very well-established racist history, famously saying that the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” If you're wondering why Sessions didn't take questions at his presser, it not being his purview is a pretty good explanation.
So a little over a week after pardoning a racist sheriff who bragged about running a “concentration camp,” and a couple weeks after half-heartedly defending Nazis, Trump trots out the vanguard of old-school racism in his administration, and has him issue a statement about ending a program for immigrants that Trump even said he should have no power over. The dog whistles are so loud surrounding this move that even non-canines can easily hear them. This edict below from someone who is reportedly “close to the White House inner circle,” directed towards those whose home is America, is as clear an indication as it gets of what this is really about.
The dictionary definition of ethnic cleansing is “the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity.” Ending DACA is a far cry from qualifying for this term, but only if you view it in a vacuum outside of the rest of the Trump administration’s positions. His entire campaign was centered on white grievance, and his assertion that “very fine people” were a part of a torch-wielding crew of neo-Nazis along with his pardon of Joe Arpaio cannot be divorced from his plan to end DACA. Everything Trump does is geared towards winking at the Breitbart crew—whose stated goal is reasserting white dominance in an ever-diversifying society. It is impossible to implement white nationalism’s stated goals in a multi-racial society without some form of ethnic cleansing.
If we had a president who actually cared about policy and the functions of government, ending DACA would actually be seen as a principled move if Congress was standing on deck with something to replace it. It is highly likely that DACA is unconstitutional, and perpetually issuing two-year waivers is unfair to those caught in this trap. We need a long-term solution, and one is sitting in Congress as we speak in the Dream Act, which was first introduced 16 years ago. It’s time to see how serious Congress is about fixing America’s broken immigration system. The penalty of inaction has been set by Trump—fail to pass the Dream Act, or something like it, and Congress will usher in one of America’s lowest moments in history.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.