On September 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump Administration’s plans to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program enacted under Obama that protected young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Trump urged Congress to develop a replacement within six months, at which point the administration would revisit what to do about DACA if Congress fails to act. The decision was foreshadowed earlier this year when officials alluded that the 800,000 youth who were brought to the United States as young children, Dreamers, could face deportation under Trump’s Administration. DACA provided solace for these undocumented youth from deportation and granted them the ability to work legally in the United States, enroll in college and obtain driver’s licenses.
Attorney General Sessions’ announcement was filled with xenophobic rhetoric, claiming the immigrants protected under DACA drove down wages and took jobs from Americans, when in reality they are humans who have grown up and built a life in America. The decision has sparked protests and lawsuits across the country to preserve DACA. The decision marks a shift further right from the deportation machine Obama built during his presidency, which deported 3 million people while he served in office.
“We’re seeing across the country that we have wide support, from business leaders, to parishes, to universities, to people we never expect, like Kim Kardashian even said that she supports the Dreamers. I think we are much more unified to really put pressure on Congress. We needed a permanent solution. Congress should have taken the leadership on that much sooner, but to actually instill that fear and uncertainty into young people’s lives, that was really heartless,” said Cesar Vargas, the first undocumented lawyer in New York, former co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, and former Latino Outreach Strategist for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Campaign, in an interview with the author.
The pressure activists like Vargas have put on elected officials helped lead to the creation of DACA in the first place, and the Trump Administration’s recent decision will require fighting to keep the pressure on, not regression back into the shadows to allow xenophobes like Jeff Sessions’ to define the stories of Dreamers for themselves. “I definitely think that the President felt pressure when he said that he’s going to revisit if Congress does not act. We’re going to keep the pressure on, especially as we go into 2018, and it’s no surprise that many Republicans, like yesterday Republican Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) along with Senator Tom Bennett (R-IL) as well, signed onto the DREAM Act. I think we’re seeing that more and more.”
Vargas cited that within the Trump Administration is an ongoing ideological battle between far-right white supremacist voices, and more moderate conservative voices who have been more receptive to immigration reform and supporting DACA. “The wing of the Republican party like Senator Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller, they want to deport Dreamers. They want to deport young people. There’s no question about it. There’s no disguise about that,” he said. “If they were able to put a window of six months, it was only because there was an internal debate that included the President, who was uncertain whether to do this or not, like General Kelly who was supportive of DACA. Sadly, the rational voices like General Kelly are being superseded by the most extremist, white supremacist and anti-immigrant voices like Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions.”
As Congress begins to debate a permanent solution, such as the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers, Vargas noted that efforts to include xenophobic policy concessions, like funding for a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border need to be pushed back against. “That’s a conversation that we’re going to have because frankly for me, I’m not going to criminalize my mother just so I can get a green card. I think we need to be very careful on that.”