Six months ago, President Donald Trump set an end date for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — an executive action put in by his predecessor to temporarily spare from deportation certain undocumented individuals who came to this country as children and to allow them permits so they can work and study in the U.S. legally. That artificial deadline was Monday, March 5, and it came and went. Because of court intervention, nothing much changed, which means the so-called “Dreamers” were left in limbo without certainty about their future and whether DACA or something like it will continue, expand or be dumped.
The callousness exhibited here is painful to witness — if unsurprising. President Trump originally claimed to have set the deadline in order to coax Congress to adopt a permanent fix. But after initially suggesting he had compassion for the plight of these young people, many of whom have never known another country but this one, and even speaking of expanding the program, Mr. Trump has been content to use the Dreamers as hostages to blackmail Democrats into supporting new restrictions on legal immigration. Even when bipartisan compromises emerged in the immigration debate that would, among other things, finance upgrades to the border security as Mr. Trump so passionately advocated for during the campaign, the president rejected them.
These are Americans in all but legal status — educated in our public schools, employed in our businesses. In hundreds of cases, they have defended this country as members of the armed forces. And we reject the anti-immigrant rhetoric that would have us believe that acceptance of Dreamers as countrymen diminishes the status of everyone else with legal status. It does not. The acceptance of young people who have committed no crimes (a condition of DACA often overlooked by its critics), who have demonstrated their value to society, who desire so passionately to be citizens and believe in the American dream, in American ideals, makes us stronger, makes this a more productive and fruitful place, makes us a fairer, more tolerant society.
Legally, the deadline proved meaningless. A challenge to Mr. Trump’s DACA actions (Maryland’s attorney general is among the plaintiffs) is still being heard by the courts thanks to a series of rulings that could leave the matter unresolved legally for as much as a year (in no small part because of the Supreme Court’s recent refusal to speed up a Court of Appeals review). But it’s also made matters worse by once again amplifying the anti-immigrant rhetoric among President Trump’s most ardent supporters. The far-right doesn’t want a compromise, so they cheer whenever the president moves the goal posts out of reach.
Sadly, the DACA problem could be fixed today — or at least sufficiently mended so that hundreds of thousands of people would not have to worry about whether they can get work permits renewed or whether ICE agents will be banging on their doors in a matter of months. Polls show a majority of Americans would support a fix, with a recent CBS News survey suggesting nearly 90 percent of people want DACA recipients to stay, which is much higher than the percentage who support building a wall along the Mexican border. Yet Democrats have more or less conceded that ground. Why is that not a sufficient trade-off? Or better yet, why is any trade-off necessary when public support for keeping the Dreamers in this country is so high?
Instead the matter has seemingly been knocked off Washington’s agenda. The March 5 date spurred protests by immigration groups but no more than a yawn from those who control the agenda in Congress. They will no doubt be grappling with a fresh crisis — a trade war being the latest, but there are others (Russia indictments, North Korea talks, the rights of mass shooters to have their weapon of choice) — as this White House seeks yet another issue with which to spawn headlines and inflame the president’s political base.
The notion that Mr. Trump, a lover of chaos, a hater of policy detail and defender of white supremacists, could possibly forge a broad piece of legislation on something as complicated, nuanced and easily subject to demagoguery as immigration reform is laughable. That Dreamers are needlessly left in limbo for another year, however, isn’t funny at all.