The first thing to know about Donald Trump’s cruel and gratuitous decision to end the DACA program is that he did not do it with heart. For those who say he wrestled with this decision, I choose not to believe it. Not believing Trump is, of course, the default position. But this one is clear.
It wasn’t only that Donald Trump rescinded protection for 800,000 Dreamers, those who were brought to America as children, who grew up as Americans, who overwhelmingly go to school or go to work and pay their taxes and stay out of trouble.
It was how Trump did it that tells you everything.
He didn’t make the announcement himself because it’s nearly impossible, even for TV reality stars, to heartlessly rescind protection for entirely innocent people and pretend they’re doing it with heart. It was Trump, as we remember, who advised the Dreamers to “rest easy.”
Instead, he sent out his anti-immigrant attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who sent a clear message to Trump’s base. This is a matter of law, Sessions said, and the law must be followed. If that doesn’t sound quite believable coming from the administration that just pardoned Joe Arpaio, that’s because it isn’t believable. Let’s just say the Constitution may not be Trump’s strongest suit. This is the same Donald Trump, after all, who routinely bashes judicial decisions and questions the integrity of the judges themselves. It’s the same Donald Trump who issued the not-anything-like-rule-of-law Muslim ban.
What Sessions pointedly did not say was that he had any sympathy for the plight of the 800,000 who find themselves in legal limbo through no fault of their own. No, three times he called them “illegal aliens,” just as a provocation. He pointed out they were adults, apparently suggesting that young adults don’t deserve our compassion. He said, without offering any evidence, they were taking jobs from Americans. At least he didn’t call them rapists, but, then, he was only up there for a few minutes.
It was unnecessarily ugly. And completely without heart. The average Dreamer came to the United States at age 6. Doesn’t the argument end there? Do you really send them back to a country they’ve never known? It’s pretty clear — unless you’re someone like Sessions who looks at a 6-year-old and sees a job-stealing illegal.
But it’s all of a piece, with Charlottesville, with Arpaio, with shoring up a shaky base. Sessions tosses out the red meat while Trump puts the onus on Congress, which now faces a six-month deadline as DACA phases out to pass an immigration fix. That could happen, but it’s not necessarily the way to bet.
And yet, in a promising statement, Paul Ryan offered this: “It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”
Meanwhile, in a major surprise, Cory Gardner announced that he was joining Michael Bennet in co-sponsoring the 2017 DREAM Act. Is there dream-mentum in Congress after all? Do the polls, which overwhelmingly back the Dreamers, actually mean something?
Well, it’s not altogether clear. For one thing, Ryan has had many opportunities to meet this challenge and has so far done, well, nothing. He voted against a similar bill, along with nearly every House Republican, in 2010. But there’s a bigger problem — the one about the president’s leadership. If Trump wanted to lead here, there was much he could have done besides cower in the White House.
He could have given a speech. He could have said that this is an issue that’s separate from the greater, and more complicated, issue of immigration. He could have backed the 2017 Dream Act. He could say that this was an important, moral issue for him. Or he could have gotten on board with Mike Coffman’s Bridge Act, which would give the Dreamers a three-year extension and allow real time to work on a bill to preserve their rights.
But Trump isn’t pressing for Dreamer reform. That would be too easy. In her press briefing, Sarah Sanders said Trump wants a comprehensive immigration bill, which means one that will never pass — and certainly one that wouldn’t pass within six months, after which DACA goes away and Trump blames Congress and Congress blames Obama and 800,000 Dreamers go back into the shadows. Of course, the reason Obama issued the controversial executive order on Dreamers in the first place was because Congress — meaning Paul Ryan, meaning Mitch McConnell — refused to do anything about addressing the problem.
It’s safe to assume that Trump’s version of “comprehensive” — which, of course, he hasn’t laid out, because that’s apparently Congress’ job, too — would include Trump’s absurd wall, which he apparently now hopes to pay for by holding the futures of 800,000 Dreamers hostage. Democrats should not take that deal. If Trump wants to play hardball, there is the debt ceiling to use as leverage, there is a government shutdown to use as leverage, not the lives of 800,000.
This isn’t politics as usual. This is politics in opposition to injustice inflicted (by Sessions at least) in the name of the Founding Fathers. The injustice is what led all those high school students to walk out of class and go to the Auraria campus for a DACA rally Tuesday. Some, we’re told, walked six miles.
They know their own stories or stories of relatives or stories of classmates. Many of them know the story of Alonso Guillen, a 31-year-old disc jockey enrolled in the DACA program who died while trying to rescue Harvey survivors. He drove 100 miles to help in the effort, but the boat he was using hit a bridge and capsized. For those who spent hours searching for his body in the floodwaters, it’s fair to guess his status mattered not at all.
Guillen’s mother, who lives in Mexico, had said she was turned away at the border trying to get to America for his funeral. But border patrol officials, when hearing of her story, arranged for her to come to Texas. It was the decent, humane thing to do. If only there were more of that going around.
Let’s face it, if decency and humanity were the ruling standard, the DACA program would have been passed into law long ago.