After months of wavering back and forth on the issue, the White House announced on Sept. 5 that there would be an official phasing out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the next six months.
Though the futures of the nation’s undocumented people remains uncertain, it’s clear the decision conveys an alarming and inexcusable disconnect between members of the federal government and those affected by the decision.
DACA — an Obama-era program that protected undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children — allowed nearly 800,000 DACA recipients (or “Dreamers”) to apply for work permits and study in the United States without fear of deportation. This program first came under fire by President Donald Trump during an immigration speech delivered in August 2016, when he called the executive amnesty “illegal,” and vowed to “immediately terminate” it upon election. However, shortly after inauguration, Trump pulled back on his campaign promise, citing his “big heart,” and told ABC News that the Dreamers “shouldn’t be very worried.” He promised that greatly empathetic measures would be taken to ensure that immigrants without criminal records would be safe from deportation.
Between then and the Sept. 5 announcement, he publicly wavered back and forth on the issue and has continued to send mixed messages, even after announcing the decision.
Trump tweeted on Sept. 7, “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!”
On Sept. 14, he tweeted, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!”
The two tweets were published just days after his DACA decision. Trump has also put the responsibility on Congress to respond, tweeting on Sept. 5, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”
And, indeed, many members of Congress, regardless of party, support DACA, but they haven’t shown the due urgency to oppose its phasing out. The American people have a different take. A poll by Morning Consult and Politico showed that 65 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Independents and 48 percent of Republicans approved of granting documentation status to Dreamers. We must ask why a program highly favored by the American people has been continually dismissed by federal government. It’s clear that this issue isn’t urgent for Trump’s administration and many members of Congress, because they aren’t directly affected by it and don’t experience the urgency that the American people do.
What should be empathy for our undocumented people has been replaced by apathy of the White House and Congress. It’s lack of empathy that causes Trump’s public stance to waver easily; it’s lack of empathy that stalls Congress from reversing the DACA decision.
Trump used DACA as political leverage during his 2016 campaign into his current presidency, where it has evolved into a grisly bargaining chip in his negotiations with Democratic Party leaders.
In a Sept. 13 meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a deal was allegedly made with Trump that protected DACA recipients in exchange for increased border patrol, excluding the proposed border wall (though this was challenged by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders).
While bipartisan tolerance remains essential to respectful democratic practice, little is being done by the federal government to neutralize what is effectually the dehumanization of the already disenfranchised — using people as tokens in a political game rather than granting the issue due consideration. The futures of undocumented Americans shouldn’t be bargained with, and the ease with which Congress and Trump have been doing so is disturbingly unsympathetic.
While it’s unreasonable to expect that state-level government categorically oppose federal administrative decisions, it’s necessary to take action to oppose his shallow treatment of the nation’s marginalized.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin created the DREAM Act in 2001 as a practical, human-rights-motivated approach to the nation’s undocumented people rather than as a political bargaining chip, and though the bill wasn’t passed in 2012, former President Barack Obama signed DACA soon after.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has done much to support the city’s undocumented residents in the recent past, including introducing a municipal ID card program earlier this year, allowing them to enjoy citizen benefits. After the DACA decision, Emanuel declared the city a “Trump-free zone,” and this extra effort to oppose the program’s phasing out should signal to other cities that local and state legislatures are now entrusted with the responsibility of demonstrating their own support for the nation’s undocumented population.
Loyola has reflected this support. As of the 2017 fall semester, the university enrolled 150 undocumented students in the undergraduate program, according to the office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, and Loyola Stritch School of Medicine has enrolled 32 of the approximately 70 DACA medical students nationwide.
Though the university hasn’t yet refused to comply with federal deportation efforts, due to the legal vagueness surrounding the term “sanctuary,” its administration has been vocal about its support for the nation’s undocumented, setting an example for other private universities to follow suit.
Our local administrations are doing what they can to ensure that our undocumented people are safe from deportation, are granted as many benefits as our documented people as possible and feel welcomed. But the majority of Congress and the Trump administration, privileged and personally disconnected, refuse to see the people behind their bureaucratic operations. Until they find a way to do so, it is the responsibility of cities, states and private institutions across the country to do what they can to protect our most vulnerable neighbors.