Debating Dreamers: 800,000 futures hang in the balance

15 09 17

But now Trump appears poised to strike a bipartisan deal that could allow the same young immigrants to remain in the country, leaving his supporters and those on the extreme Right furious.

Leo Torres was five when he left Colombia and stepped into the US with his sister and parents on a tourist visa.

“My parents ultimately made the toughest decision of their lives. They decided to overstay our visa in order for my sister and I to grow up in a country with countless opportunities,” writes Leo.

Leo was in ninth grade when his parents were caught and deported back to Colombia and he realized what the uncertainty of being an undocumented migrant really meant.

When Leo was in tenth grade, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals scheme (DACA) was introduced.

Frustrated by the failure of Congress to pass a law that would spare those who had arrived illegally in the US as children, President Obama created DACA by executive order. Through it, successful applicants could live, study and legally work here in the United States – if they passed the vetting process. Actions to deport them could also be deferred for two years with a chance to renew.

“My whole world changed. My mental health improved dramatically. I was no longer in a hole of anxiety, depression and helplessness. I felt like there was finally hope for me. For the first time my dreams would be achievable,” says Leo.

The Trump Administration announced its plans to remove the program on 4 September, giving Congress six months to enact a replacement plan.

The ending of the scheme would leave almost 800,000 so-called DREAMers benefitting from the program in a state of uncertainty.

Leo explains he could lose his job, his ability to finish college, his driver’s license and be under threat of deportation.

“Ending this programme will affect every part of my life. I will be put back into that hole of anxiety and fear that Daca allowed me to come out of.”


Yet shortly after making his shock announcement, Trump announced he was “fairly close” to a bipartisan deal to protect young undocumented migrants last Thursday. This came a day after talks with top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at the White House.

Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement they agreed to work on a border security package although the talks would not include Trump’s wall with Mexico.

The White House denied the wall was excluded from the talks.

Trump tweeted no deal had been made yet on DACA but he sympathized with DREAMers, which left many of his hardcore supporters infuriated.

“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!… They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own – brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security,” Trump tweeted.

This goes against his harsh anti-illegal immigration stance in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election and has led to high criticism from his own party and supporters about making deals with “enemies”.

Republican Congressman Steve King tweeted: “Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”

Breitbart News, the pro-Trump alt-light site run by the President’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, ran an article which quickly generated incensed comments from readers.

One wrote: “IF this is true that Trump is in favor of the Dream Act, in direct violation of his repeated promises, THEN PATRIOTS IT IS TIME TO TREAT TRUMP THE SAME WAY WE TREATED OBAMA. WE WILL FIGHT HIM, MAKE HIM A ONE TERM FAILURE, AND GO TO ALL OUT POLITICAL WAR AGAINST THE FILTHY FAT ****!!”

Ann Coulter, a conservative commentator who wrote the book In Trump We Trust, was also angry, tweeting: “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?”

Trump’s initial decision

Trump’s initial decision to revoke DACA was slammed from across all sectors of society and across the political divide.

“The consequences of this decision will be devastating. It will split up families, force young people back to countries they never knew, and cost our economy billions of dollars. It is heartless,” said Democratic Senator Kamala Harris.

Former President Obama called the move “self-defeating” and “cruel” on Facebook.
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions said there was “nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws” when he announced that the Administration would be scrapping DACA, five years after it was introduced by Obama.

Prominent figures such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have also criticised the decision during a live broadcast in which he interviewed three Dreamers.

“To offer the American dream to people and then take it away and punish them for trusting the government is one of the most troubling things I’ve seen in a long time in our country,” he said.

The tech industry as a whole has been very critical of the decision. Before President Trump’s decision was formally announced, Zuckerberg joined other business leaders such Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Tim Cook of Apple to send an open letter to the President urging him to keep the scheme open.

The decision also sparked nationwide protests. Many chanted “Education, not deportation” while others held signs that said “Here to stay” and “My dreams are not illegal”.

Support for the scheme is not surprising. There is a growing body of evidence recognized by state and city policymakers about the benefits DREAMers bring to our economy.

Helping the US economy

An analysis by the New American Economy, a coalition of business leaders and mayors created to influence policy on immigration reform, shows that youth eligible for DACA bring in almost $19.9 billion in income. They contribute to a wide variety of industries, start businesses and improve their communities.

“They contribute more than $1.4 billion to federal taxes and more than $1.6 billion to state and local taxes in the United States. They also hold significant economic clout after taxes, with almost $16.8 billion in spending power,” the analysis finds.

Many states, including conservative Texas and Kansas, have passed legislation so that undocumented young people can pay in-state tuition in their home states. This has led to higher education levels and wages for young immigrants.

However, keeping DACA in place relies on Congress and will likely be decided before the end of this year.

An uncertain future

Meanwhile, nearly a million young people who have grown up in the US are currently waiting to hear whether they have a future in the country they call home.

DACA was never meant to last forever. Obama saw it as a stopgap measure providing temporary stability for a group of youth until comprehensive immigration reform could be passed by Congress.

However, if reforms ever do pass, it is unlikely they will be sympathetic to DREAMers under Trump’s presidency.


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