The End of a Dream
After weeks of rumors and tweets, Donald Trump announced his decision to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a notorious racist and anti-migrant advocate, broke the news with the gleeful expression he reserves for when he’s destroying the lives of thousands of Latino or Muslim or Black or Indigenous people.
The measure ends the dreams of approximately 800,000 young people inscribed in the program, called Dreamers, who could get driver’s licences, find jobs or improve their employment, continue their studies, and live in peace in recent years. The decision strips them of the protection against deportation proceedings that was provided by Barack Obama’s executive order in 2012, although not immediately.
The Trump administration is sending out a clear signal to Latinos to leave or be expelled. The announcement also shows that even without Steve Bannon’s physical presence in the White House, the white supremacists dominate in the 45th president’s government. Bannon, who was Trump’s Chief Strategist, was pushed out a few weeks ago in the constant jostling for power among factions within the Trump entourage.
For a long time, Trump has known that he’s between a rock and a hard place on DACA. On the one hand, he had to fulfill his central campaign promise to end DACA to consolidate his base among anti-immigrant forces and the hard-core restrictionist part of the Republican Party. On the other hand, some advisers, including his daughter and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, plus a considerable part of the business elite opposed killing the program. Kushner and others in the cabinet feared the inevitable protests that would arise if hundreds of thousands of young Latinos suddenly lost their permission to remain in the country.
Employers defended DACA, citing the potential loss of employees. Apple exec Tim Cook tweeted: “250 of my colleagues at Apple are Dreamers; I support them”. He signed a letter along with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and hundreds of CEOs calling to preserve the program. Overall, according to the latest survey, 76% of the US population believes Dreamers should have the option to stay in the country legally.
At certain times, Trump hinted that he would not end DACA. However, anti-immigrant state governments twisted his arm, threatening to challenge DACA in the courts in a letter signed by 10 state prosecutors. Facing two opposing currents, Trump couched the highly politicized decision in legal terms and shunted it off to Congress. Sessions announced the withdrawal of protection, at the same time saying that the cut-off will be postponed for six months to give Congress time to find a solution.
That means that presumably the government will not begin detaining Dreamers right away (although some have already been arrested under the Trump administration even with DACA), but beginning in March 2018 many will lose protection if congress doesn’t pass legislation allowing them to stay. As of Sept. 5, the government will accept no new DACA applications. Work permits will be valid until they expire. Thousands of young people enter a kind of limbo marked by uncertainty and anguish. The fact that the federal government now has their personal data including place of employment, address, etc. becomes a risk factor in the hands of this president. For going through the proper legal channels, DACA recipients now become easy prey in the hunt for migrants that Trump administration has unleashed.
Sending this thorny issue to Congress does not hide the fact that it was Trump who decided to end the program, and it is he who has exposed the young Dreamers and their families to mass removal. It’s a long shot that a Congress controlled by his party will reach an agreement to extend the program, or find any other way to legalize the immigration status of these young Americans.
A few months ago, we visited the office of an immigration lawyer in Tucson, Arizona who handles DACA cases and talked to Mabel in the waiting room. Mabel arrived in Arizona from Mexico when she was 9 years old. At 22 now, Mabel described what DACA has meant in her life.
After we got the permit, she says, “I found a stable job, I was able to get a new car,” she says (she works with refugee services). “I want to go back to school, it’s a little expensive, but we’ll figure it out…” Her goal is to be a veterinarian.
I asked her what would happen if she didn’t get her DACA renewal approved, and her mother jumped into the conversation: “The first thing that is going to happen is that she’ll be unemployed.” “Yeah,” Mabel adds, “And without a job, I can’t pay for my car, I can’t pay for anything.”
Losing her job will not only be a blow to Mabel and her family. The U.S. economy depends on these young people as workers and consumers. Experts estimate that the U.S. economy would lose around $460 billionover a decade without the Dreamers.
The economic cost of whitening American society is sky high. The human cost is unthinkable.
With this triumph of the racist agenda, thousands of migrants can no longer live with security and opportunity in their country – the country that has been their community and, in many cases, the only nation they have memory of. The goal is to expel them or drive them from their homes through fear and hatred, often taking legal U.S. citizens with them to keep the family together. It’s part of the grand plan to “recover” the country for the “natives”, who are not natives, but the descendants of European immigrants, an ethnic cleansing– along with other measures already announced such as the Muslim ban, the proposal to reduce legal migration, the wall, and massive deportations–devised by the white supremacists.
For Mexico, the announcement this week hits hard. The Peña Nieto admintration says it’s prepared to receive the Dreamers, but the reality is quite different. Deportees are being kidnapped on arrival to collect ransom, because they are defenseless and there are no effective programs to help them. The Mexican economy can’t offer decent jobs to the people here, which is usually why the families left in the first place. Now it will hard pressed to find work for returning migrants, even though most are bilingual and have acquired skills. The Ministry of Foreign Relations says it will expand consular services, facilitate education and job opportunites and welcome them back “with open arms”.
But so far, deportees and returnees are reporting indifference and infficiency in government offices. The government of Peña Nieto has not taken any measures with international human rights organizations to protest the violation of the human rights of his compatriots in the USA, partly because he does not want to disturb Trump in the middle of a difficult renegotiation of NAFTA. To save transnational employers, he sacrifices international workers.
Now thousands would have to return to the shadows of a petty society that allows such atrocious exile. Or maybe not. There is a ray of light in this gray panorama. On the day the repeal of DACA was announced there were demonstrations throughout the United States. Dreamers expressed themselves, but also students who share the classroom with them, workers who work side by side with them, mothers and fathers and children, with or without papers. It has touched a sensitive nerve of American society.
The Dreamer population came out of the shadows thanks to DACA and now the rest of society knows their faces well–faces that are part of everyday life in rural and urban neighborhoods, universities and schools, factories and restaurants. They are friends, classmates, colleagues and lovers, woven deeply into the web of relations that make a strong community and economy.
The Latino community will not stand alone when the raids come down, but with the support of millions of men and women who have shared their lives with the young immigrants who now refuse to return to the shadows.
This article was originally posted in Spanish at Desinformémonos.