The Trump administration’s decision to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will unleash a world of trouble, and resurrect Dreamer politics. It’s most intense and threatening for the 800,000 recipients, their families, friends, neighbors, and employers, but the drama won’t stop there.
The Dreamers, young people brought to the United States as children, are the most photogenic, sympathetic, and politically engaged people directly touched by a failed immigration policy. The DREAM Act would have provided them with permanent legal status and, in many versions, a path toward citizenship. It also would have peeled off the simplest political problem from the larger immigration debate. Versions of the DREAM Act have floated up through the legislature for well over a decade, dramatically failing in the lame duck Congress legislating in the wake of the Tea Party election of 2010. (We’ve discussed the Dreamers since that time, here and here and here.) Brave Dreamers and their supporters marched, lobbied, fasted, and sat in at legislators’ offices to promote their cause.
When Republicans took control of the House, a significant Nativist caucus in their midst, President Obama tried to do what he could–and, it turned out, more than he could, in offering temporary work status and protection from deportation (DACA). An inadequate solution, the policy nonetheless brought some political peace, and the larger immigration debate festered and stalled at the same time. Mostly, the language of the Dream largely disappeared from the debate.
Ending DACA brings the politics of the DREAM back. These young people and their allies now have no options beyond politics. Expect the full range of protests from the last wave to come back, only stronger. The protests, in front of the Trump Tower and the White House and across the United States, are already here.
DACA made visible nearly a million young people to their teachers, employers, and neighbors, and their support has only grown. So too has their collective will and political skill in making a case for joining the American project. Their vigorous supporters now include big business, local politicians, university administrations, and many conservative Republicans in Congress. Obama’s Executive Order left the Dreamers not only more committed, but also politically stronger, than ever before.
In what has become his characteristic leadership style, Trump has demanded that Congress fix his political problem without providing a hint of what policy he wants to see. He is clearly more interested in avoiding blame than advancing policy. Because that Nativist caucus is at least as powerful in the Republican Party, Congress will be unable to act without some bipartisan cooperation.
There are some promising signs, like the DREAM bill cosponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), but any efforts will be opposed by that Nativist slice of the Republican Party–and the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions. Immigration reformers are going to want action that addresses the other 10 million or so undocumented immigrants in limbo. And any progress made by Congress will provoke the Trump voters who are still waiting for the wall.