As expected, the Trump Administration announced on September 5 that it was rescinding the five-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, with a six-month delay before the cancellation takes full effect. President Trump dodged making the announcement himself; he stuck Attorney General Jeff Sessions with the job. And later in the day Trump seemed to contradict the announcement with a tweet threatening to “revisit” the issue in six months if Congress fails to put together some sort of DACA replacement. What that meant was anybody’s guess.
Sessions’ official announcement was vague, but the administration clarified some points during the day. No new DACA applications will be accepted, but people who have already applied can expect their applications to be processed in the usual way. Current recipients whose two-year deferrals and work authorizations are set to expire before March 6, 2018, can apply to renew their deferrals and work authorizations, but they must do so before October 5. Current recipients whose deferrals expire on or after March 6 are simply out of luck.
In public pronouncements the White House tried to make its approach sound humane, but a talking points memo the administration circulated in Congress on September 5 had this chilling remark: “The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States—including proactively seeking travel documentation—or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.”
According to the memo, the total number of DACA recipients as of September 4 was 689,821, somewhat lower than estimates in the media of about 800,000.
“Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!” Trump tweeted, implying that Congress now had six months to find some legislative solution for the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came here as children. In other words, he was calling for some version of the DREAM Act, a legislative proposal that has been kicking around on Capitol Hill since 2001. It’s true that the DREAM Act has bipartisan support, and the latest version might well pass Congress if there was a straight up-and-down vote. But various observers note that this hasn’t happened in the past 16 years—and the current session of Congress has had a lot of trouble passing anything.
Some Republicans will be pushing for a divide-and-conquer strategy: they’ll back the DREAM Act in exchange for an agreement to fund Trump’s border wall. But the Dreamers themselves seem to have no patience for this sort of horse trading. “I’m not going to step on top of my community to get ahead,” a DACA recipient protesting outside the White House told The Daily Beast on September 5.
Sessions’ September 5 announcement sparked protests that day, including civil disobedience and arrests, throughout the country. But what will the long-term response be?
Several legal organizations have already started to challenge the DACA cancellation in court, and at least three state government seem ready to mount their own challenges. These would be unlikely to overturn the White House’s decision, but they could delay implementation, just as the right wing’s challenges to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) tied the program up in court until Obama’s successor could repeal it. Meanwhile, a number of organizations are gearing up to pressure Congress with online petitions calling for passage of the DREAM Act.
Some of the organizations we can expect to lead efforts to protect DACA recipients include Mijente, Moviemiento Cosecha, Presente and United We Dream,
DACA recipients and their friends and families add up to a substantial part of the population, and young Dreamers have been especially forceful in the past as activists. Add to this their potential appeal to native-born citizens. A Morning Consult/Politico national tracking poll from August 31 to September 3 showed 58 percent of respondents supporting a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, while another 18 percent felt the immigrant youths should be allowed to become legal residents but not citizens. Only 15 percent wanted them deported. In other words, like the ObamaCare “repeal and replace” effort, the DACA cancellation is only popular with Trump’s hardcore base—and is extremely unpopular with the great majority of the population.
One way to build on this potential support among the native born would be to confront economic issues—especially the one often misrepresented as “they take our jobs.” Although much anti-immigrant feeling is simply racist and xenophobic, a good deal comes from native-born workers who find their own wages held down because of lower pay for undocumented immigrants. As a recent Economic Policy Institute (EPI) blog post puts it, “The reasonable fear unauthorized workers feel keeps them docile and quiet, which in turn diminishes the bargaining power of Americans who work alongside unauthorized workers.” The corollary, rarely mentioned in the media, is that providing authorization for undocumented workers raises their pay and puts upward pressure on the pay of other workers in the same fields.
A 2016 survey found that after receiving DACA protection, including work authorization, recipients found their wages increasing by 42 percent on average. Other factors probably contributed to the wage increase, but the main factor was certainly the DACA work authorization. So what happens when DACA recipients are forced back into low-paying jobs in the informal economy? “Ending DACA and forcing these young workers out of the formal, regulated labor market, thus making them easily exploitable will not help American workers,” the EPI blog concludes. “[I]t will do the opposite.”
A little more than two hours after Sessions’ September 5 briefing, Vox posted an article entitled “4 lies Jeff Sessions told to justify ending DACA.” One of these was his claim that DACA “among other things contributed to a surge of minors at the southern border with humanitarian consequences,” a reference to an uptick in asylum seekers from three Central American countries in the spring of 2014.
It is well known that the principal cause for the uptick was a sharp increase in crime in the three countries, but did DACA have anything to do with it? The Vox article said there was “a lot of disagreement” on this but indicated that the increase in asylum seekers was mostly due to “increasing violence and worsening economic conditions in Central American countries.” PolitiFact found Sessions’ claim “mostly false.” Actually, it’s completely false.
Sessions was repeating disinformation perpetrated by the right wing—including an office of the Border Patrol—in the summer of 2014, disinformation that was never sufficiently debunked by the corporate media. A leaked Border Patrol report about interviews agents conducted with asylum seekers one day in May 2014 attributed the uptick to “misrepresentations” about DACA. But someone also leaked the original report about the interviews. This report showed clearly that any “pull” factor from the United States for the uptick was the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), not DACA.
Sessions probably wasn’t aware of any of this. He—or whoever wrote his statement—simply didn’t know the facts and couldn’t be bothered to find out what they were.