There's one big reason for Trump and Sessions to target DACA: Racism

Jeff Sessions claims DACA recipients are undeserving, unassimilated and prone to crime. None of that is true

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published September 6, 2017 5:00AM (EDT)

 (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
(AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Despite all his repeated invocations of the "rule of law," Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions — named after a president and general of the Confederacy — could not conceal during his Tuesday's press conference that the Trump administration's winding down of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is about racial bigotry. Sessions' entire speech was shot through with falsehoods and distortions, each one playing directly off ugly racist stereotypes and assumptions that have nothing to do with the facts on hand.

None of this should be a surprise, however. As Coretta Scott King warned the nation in 1986 — and Sen. Elizabeth Warren reminded us in January — Sessions "lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment" when it comes to the basic human rights of nonwhite people. The relentless attacks that he instigated on the voting rights of black Americans suggests a long history of seeing nonwhite people as undeserving of those rights. In Tuesday's speech, in which Sessions was glowing with near-orgasmic joy at the idea of ruining the lives of 800,000 people, his rhetoric confirmed that he does not see DACA recipients, most of whom come from below our southern border, as real people, so much as racist stereotypes.

Sessions repeatedly tried to paint DACA recipients, 100 percent of whom have passed a background check confirming they have no criminal record, as criminals, using terms like "lawlessness" and suggesting that DACA somehow contributes to "crime, violence and even terrorism." He called them "mostly-adult illegal aliens," in an effort to paint them as criminals actively choosing to break the law.

In reality, DACA recipients have, by law, clean criminal records and were brought here as children — the average age of arrival was 6 years old. Nor is it true, as many defenders of the Trump administration's racist policies would have you believe, that being undocumented is a "crime." Being in the United States without papers is not a criminal offense.

What Sessions is doing is trying to redefine criminality, so it is based less on a person's actions and instead on a person's race or ethnicity. Which is, of course, in line with how his boss, Donald Trump — who famously called Mexican immigrants "criminals" and "rapists" — views the world. Trump himself was caught on tape bragging about groping women without consent, but it's Latino immigrants he blames for "doing the raping." What makes someone a sexual assailant in his eyes, apparently, is not that person's actual behavior but his ethnicity and birthplace.

Sessions also tried to play the overpopulation card during his brief remarks, saying DACA had "denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens" and arguing that "we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here."

Sessions's concern for overpopulation is tellingly limited to the issue of immigration. Overpopulation concerns haven't moved Sessions away from his avid support for forced childbirth. He has repeatedly attacked access to both abortion and contraception, even though anyone who was truly concerned about overpopulation affecting jobs and wages would want women to be able to limit their family size.

Again, this is just more proof that Sessions (and his boss in the White House) are motivated by racism, not any legitimate social concerns. Sessions isn't worried about overpopulation. Throughout his career, his rhetoric has suggested he simply wants white people to be the dominant group in America and sees immigration as a threat to that.

This reading is only reinforced by the fact that Sessions has a long history with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a white supremacist group built around the mission of drastically reducing, or even eliminating, immigration by any groups except white Europeans. Sessions has gone to many of their meetings and was their keynote speaker in 2007.

This is a group that argues that immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America are “generally less educated, lower skilled, and lower income” than Europeans, and that immigration "since 1965 has also profoundly changed the nation’s racial and ethnic composition," which they view as a self-evidently bad trend. FAIR's founder has also argued that white people are seeing "their power and control over their lives declining" because of immigration, and their current president believes that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy opened up immigration to nonwhites "to retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance and hubris."

That kind of rhetoric resonated through Sessions' speech, albeit in coded terms, when he said that ending DACA "will enable our country to more effectively teach new immigrants about our system of government and assimilate them to the cultural understandings that support it."

In reality, DACA recipients are the children of immigrants and without exception have grown up in this country. And children of immigrants play a critical role in the assimilation process.

"Numerous studies have shown the role of children of immigrants acting as a 'middle-person' between their parents and any bureaucratic system," a 2015 United We Dream survey of DACA recipients notes. "Over 70 percent of DACA recipients are translators for their families, close to 72 percent help fill-out important documents, and 37 percent attended important meetings, like parent-teacher conferences for younger siblings, on behalf of their parents."

"Indeed, nearly 50 percent of DACA recipients said their family relies on them for information on immigration, health care, education and other issues," the report continues.

More than 90 percent of DACA recipients have jobs, which pay an average of $17.46 an hour, and 72 percent are pursuing some form of higher education.

The only reason to believe these young people have not assimilated is if you simply cannot accept that people with Latin American heritage, who likely speak both Spanish and English, are truly American.

Trump and Sessions have repeatedly made clear their belief that people deemed "white" are more legitimate Americans than others. This move on the Trump administration's part, and Sessions' justifications for it, just provides more evidence, albeit damning evidence, of a pattern of deeply ingrained racism. DACA recipients are none of the things Sessions suggested they are: They are not criminals, not unassimilated and not undeserving of their jobs. The only reason to believe otherwise is bigotry.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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