Trump and DACA: Deferred actions and broken American dreams

Trump and DACA: Deferred actions and broken American dreams
Comment: The state of immigration reform in the United States. By Marcus Montgomery.
5 min read
01 Feb, 2018
DACA recipients watch President Trump's first 'State of the Union' speech [AFP]
The debate over immigration in the United States is almost as old as the country itself. Over the past few weeks, however, the US government has been slowed - and completely stopped - by the most recent iteration of the immigration debate.

Towards the end of 2017, President Donald Trump announced that he would terminate a Barack Obama-era protection for undocumented immigrants (informally known as "dreamers") unless the notoriously fractured and slow-moving Congress could do something it rarely does: agree on a solution for some 800,000 people.

The dreamers were always in a precarious situation. By definition, these young, undocumented immigrants were brought to the United States before they turned 15, and in many cases, they arrived in US territory at such a young age that they have never known any other country to be home.

Many of these young people are ostensibly Americans; they speak fluent English, work and pay taxes, and many go to college to better their career prospects. However, many still lived day-to-day in fear of being deported to a country they could not remember.

To give redress to this concern, President Obama issued a directive imploring these immigrants to come out from the shadows in exchange for protection against deportation.
In fact, the issue is so divisive that, when paired with legislation to fund the federal government, lawmakers balked and the government closed for a few days

The order, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), allowed more than one million dreamers - though only about 800,000 received the two-year protection - to come forward and live their lives working, traveling, and paying taxes, without fear of punishment.

But with one fell swoop of a pen, President Trump notified Congress that, without a legislative fix to the issue, the protections for the immigrants would expire and, starting in March 2018, the dreamers could be subjected to, at least, losses of jobs and financial aid and, at most, arrest and deportation.

How, then, might Congress react? Early developments have not be promising. In fact, the issue is so divisive that, when paired with legislation to fund the federal government, lawmakers balked and the government closed for a few days.

Now, the White House has floated a proposal it suggests is the opening offer for a bipartisan agreement. The problem is, key constituencies in both parties and in both chambers have deemed the proposal dead on arrival. This is really illustrative of the current state of the immigration debate - already a flashpoint between the parties for the past decade - being compounded by the hyper-polarisation that has characterised Washington for the past four to five years.

Only in a capital so divided and equally as vindictive is the question of uprooting the lives of 800,000 young adults even entertained. What's worse, these elected officials would opt to shut down the government over finding a solution, despite the fact that more than 80 percent of the US electorate supports a solution to the plight of the dreamers that results in a pathway to citizenship.

As it stands, differing proposals are being tossed around both chambers of Congress. Some favour a bipartisan bill that would give an eventual path to citizenship - something immigration hardliners call "amnesty" - to millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The White House, however, came out forcefully against the plan and the president's spokeswoman bluntly said Trump would not sign any bill resembling the Senate version.

Others are lauding a bill offered by conservative House members that would provide three-year renewable legal statuses for those eligible under the DACA provision.

Admittedly, that is generous, considering Obama's DACA programme offered only two-year renewable legal statuses. Like Obama's programme, however, the bill proposed by Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) does not offer dreamers an eventual path to citizenship. What makes this bill so unpalatable for many immigration moderates is the non-dreamer related provisions.

This bill, like the White House's proposal, boosts funding for personnel and equipment for the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies. While that is not entirely controversial for many lawmakers, the funding is also paired with funds earmarked for President Trump's desired border wall - and that is likely a non-starter for most Democrats, and even a number of Republicans representing border states or border districts.
The problems facing lawmakers on the issue of immigration are many and, considering recent history and the current climate of the debate, the conflict seems intractable

Additionally, the GOP bills look to slash legal immigration substantially. In addition to some unilateral decisions the White House has made in regards to immigration numbers (eg, revoking temporary protected status for a number of immigrants or reducing the number of refugees allowed to settle in the United States), these proposals would significantly decrease the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States and completely end certain forms of legal immigration.

The problems facing lawmakers on the issue of immigration are many and, considering recent history and the current climate of the debate, the conflict seems intractable. For many conservative Americans, this is an issue of "law and order" - and aversion to the "risk" many believe is inherent in letting strangers reside in their country.

For those that are more inclined to support immigration, it is for practical and humanitarian reasons. Many seeking to enter the United States do so for the purpose of advancement, while others are looking simply for survival within a country where the government is stable and economic prospects are brighter.

The debate over immigration is a straining one in much of the world at current, and it is certainly not novel to the United States. However, when it comes to the plight of dreamers, lawmakers and the president appear unprecedentedly callous. For all intents and purposes, there are nearly 800,000 "Americans" that could have their lives thrown into uncertainty, despite having lived their lives parallel to their friends and colleagues with US citizenship.

These "Generation 1.5" immigrants are at risk of being lost amid the broader debate: Will the United States be hospitable, extending a helping hand to the "tired, poor, and huddled masses" or will it close its doors to the rest of the world? 

Marcus Montgomery is a Junior Analyst for Congressional Affairs at Arab Center Washington DC.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.