Score a partial victory for immigration activists. Donald Trump’s administration has announced that the so-called DREAMers — young people who were brought to this country illegally as children — will be allowed to stay and work here legally after all. These young people were beneficiaries of President Barack Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this week.
Now the Department of Homeland Security has issued guidance suggesting that the DACA program will continue, and that the department will not be taking removal actions against DACA grantees.
This is welcome news for the young people directly affected by DACA. It is a tribute to their activism and advocacy that this sensible plan will continue. But Trump’s decision must be seen in the context of his overall immigration enforcement strategies — because despite this development, immigrants continue to live in fear across the country.
The DACA program provides temporary deportation relief and work permits for those who were brought to the US as children, have a clean record and undergo a background check. It does not grant anyone citizenship, legal status or even a green card.
It is easy to see a cynical calculation by the White House at play here. Trump has been mired in scandal, with his domestic agenda at a near standstill. He desperately needs something — anything — positive on the homefront. With his approval rating at historic lows, perhaps he saw extending DACA as a way of generating some much-needed, positive news coverage
If so, Trump is running a real risk, as his base has been shown to be motivated by fear about immigration. Will they vent their anger over a betrayal by the President over the people they term “illegals?” And what will he do then?
Still, it makes sound economic sense for the President to allow DACA to go on. DACA grantees are attending college, becoming entrepreneurs and fully integrating into society. A 2016 study by the Center for American Progress found that DACA had a positive economic impact on its recipients — and on the overall economy.
What is unsettling is that Trump’s latest position on DACA is in keeping with his mercurial personality. During his campaign, he vowed to “immediately terminate” the program. Later, he promised to do right by the young people affected, saying he would treat them “with heart.”
Meanwhile, the long-term status of DACA is unclear. “There has been no final determination made about the DACA program, which the President has stressed needs to be handled with compassion and with heart,” said Jonathan Hoffman, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the department, according to The New York Times.
So Trump’s decision about DACA should be viewed as good news for now.
But moves on immigration by this administration deserve to be viewed skeptically. Consider that the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently said that all undocumented immigrants in the us “should be uncomfortable” and “looking over their shoulder.” Or that ICE agents have already targeted DREAMers, like Daniela Vargas and Jessica Colotl, for deportation under questionable circumstances.
What’s more, the joy in the immigrant community over this DACA news is tempered by the reality of his administration’s “deportation force.” DACA only protects about 740,000 young people; virtually all of the other 11 million undocumented people in the US remain at risk for deportation.
In New York, immigration agents arrested a teenager right before his prom. The government is deporting Mormon moms and asylum seekers. From coast to coast, ICE officials are busy detaining otherwise law-abiding people. Immigration arrests are up 38% this year — with the biggest jump in arrests among those who have no criminal records.
Sure, DACA grantees are pleased at this reprieve. Yet they — along with their allies — remain concerned about mothers, fathers, friends and colleagues, who might not be so lucky. Millions of mixed-status families — where some are US citizens and some undocumented — are still worried about their futures, especially because Trump is not moving forward with President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.
Although keeping DACA is a step in the right direction, this administration’s destructive immigration enforcement actions continue. President Trump is still a long way from being seen as a friend to immigrants.