With a glint in his eye befitting a teenage boy who just discovered Pornhub, Attorney General Jeff Sessions – a man deemed too racist for the federal bench 30 years ago – announced last Tuesday that the Trump administration was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama program that protected nearly eight hundred thousand immigrants, including 33,000 in Florida, who came to the U.S. as children from deportation and granted them two-year work permits.
He did so because President Trump was too chickenshit to swing the ax himself, instead shuffling off the duty to a small-minded bigot who receives a peculiar thrill from screwing over brown people.
Three facts about DACA we should keep in mind before moving on. One, 100 percent of DACA recipients have no criminal record; if they have a criminal record, they're ineligible for the program. Two, 97 percent have jobs or are enrolled in school. They're not a drain on our economy. In fact, one estimate says that losing DACA will cost the U.S. $460 billion in GDP over the next decade. Three, their average age of arrival is 6. They don't know anything about their country of origin; this is their home.
Kicking them out won't make our country any safer or more prosperous. It will, however, demonstrate that we are profoundly meaner and more capricious than we imagine ourselves to be. That's especially the case if the administration decides to use the DACA data recipients have submitted over the last five years to expedite their deportations, something the talking points the White House circulated after Sessions' announcement indicated was a distinct possibility.
I should also note that much of what Sessions said about the program during his speech was blatantly false. DACA does not provide "legal status" to undocumented immigrants. Unlike those with legal status, DACA recipients don't automatically receive work permits; they have to apply every two years, at a cost of $500. And DACA didn't contribute to a surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border; that had more to do violence and poverty inside the minors' countries of origin.
Sessions was correct, however, that DACA is under legal threat, with a handful of Republican state attorneys general threatening to sue over the program. And he's not wrong that DACA would be on thin ice before the Supreme Court. Still, it's not like Sessions' claims about the bill's constitutionality are indisputable; a 2014 Department of Justice memo concluded that the program was constitutional, after all.
In any event, the administration gleefully refusing to even try to defend DACA gives the game away: They didn't have to do this. They chose to do it. And now we have a crisis of Trump's own making.
The Republican spin is that they're not targeting Dreamers, but simply restoring the rule of law and the separation of powers. President Obama, they argue, acted improperly when he took executive action. The better route is for Congress to pass a bill.
The thing about that, though, is that Obama spent years practically begging Congress to pass a bill. Republicans refused. They spiked the DREAM Act, which would have granted undocumented kids legal status, and refused to even countenance codifying DACA into law.
So what makes us think they'll do it now?
The fact is, while a clean DACA bill would likely pass both the House and Senate, it might not win support from a majority of each chamber's GOP caucus, which means Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might not want to bring it up for a vote.
Besides, the GOP would rather use DACA recipients as bargaining chips. So what you're likely to see is an attempted "compromise" – emphasis on the scare quotes – in which the lives of 800,000 people are bartered for either funding for Trump's idiotic wall or bill to limit legal immigration and effectively restrict it to English speakers.
Neither is acceptable. Neither is moral.
If that fails, Trump tweeted Tuesday, he'll "revisit this issue" in six months – cold comfort to the immigrants now left in limbo, their futures and dreams left to the president's caprice. And it's not like Trump's decision won't have immediate impacts. Indeed, the government will stop taking DACA applications, will prevent most recipients from seeking two-year extensions and will stop processing DACA renewals next month. Some DACA recipients will be eligible for deportation come March.
Also, it's not altogether clear how Trump will even be able to revisit DACA after his attorney general spoke at length about how it was unconstitutional. That, in fact, is the administration's entire rationale for its action: The threat of a lawsuit forced its hand. But either the program is legal or it's not. If it's not, there's nothing to revisit. If it is, then what the hell are we even doing here?
What we're seeing is the unavoidable result of government by horrible people, bullies without a scintilla of empathy or compassion who've gained power by appealing to America's basest impulses – bigotry, nativism, fear of the other – and aim to keep it by gut-punching the vulnerable.
Dreamers deserve better. America deserves better.
Actually, America is better than that: 76 percent support allowing Dreamers to stay as legal residents, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Fifty-eight percent believe they should be eligible for citizenship. But instead of listening to them, the president is catering to the 24 percent of Republicans who want Dreamers deported.
In a statement last Tuesday, Barack Obama pinpointed the root issue: "Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we'd want our own kids to be treated. It's about who we are as a people – and who we want to be."
The White House, unfortunately, is devoid of that basic decency. It proved that last Tuesday. It proved it last month after Charlottesville. It proved it when the president attacked transgender service members. It proved it when the president sought to finance a tax cut for the rich by eviscerating Medicaid. It proved it with the Muslim ban. It proved it when Trump hired Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller.
In less than eight months, the White House has given us all the proof we need: the administration has a festering moral rot, and, like a fish, the rot starts at the head.