Despite supposed DACA deal, Trump still targeting Dreamers

We all have whiplash from Trump’s immigration flip-flops, but ICE’s actions speak louder than the president’s words

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published September 15, 2017 4:58AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Saul Loeb/AP/Gregory Bull/Photo montage by Salon)
(Getty/Saul Loeb/AP/Gregory Bull/Photo montage by Salon)

Donald Trump the dealmaker is loving his time to shine after weeks of brutal press coverage. But talk of Trump's new deal with Democrats should not distract attention from the administration's quiet targeting of undocumented immigrants -- including so-called DREAMers.

Clearly caught up in the rare positive press coverage surrounding his deal with Democrats on the debt limit last week, Trump is desperately trying to follow that up with another, hinting at giving up or postponing his precious border wall while striking a bargain on immigration. Still bathing in media coverage fixated on the presidential pivot narrative, Trump invited House and Senate minority leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to dinner at the White House on Wednesday. Although insisting on Thursday morning he hadn't yet made a formal deal with the opposition leaders, Trump did not deny reports that he would support enshrining the DACA protections into law.

Trump repeatedly promised to rescind the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) -- as part of his unyielding quest to undo Barack Obama’s legacy -- during his 2016 campaign. The Trump administration used the fifth anniversary of DACA to announce it was ending DAPA, a sister program that expanded protections for the parents of Dreamers. Under pressure from Republican attorneys general who had threatened to sue to shut down the initiative on constitutional grounds if he didn’t shut it down first, Trump rushed to finally rescind DACA last month.

The backlash was swift and widespread, as a poll conducted weeks after Trump’s victory found that Americans oppose ending the program by a margin of more than two-to-one.

Even as Trump now flirts with working with political leaders he has repeatedly demonized, to protect a group his most rabid supporters despise, Trump’s government knows where nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants live. His hardline actions, in the form of highly publicized ICE raids, only help to boost his standing with his base while deflecting from his failed campaign promises.  

“I trust our president, the great negotiator that he is,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, on Thursday. As the Huffington Post noted, few Republicans in Congress were willing to publicly criticize Trump's apparent flip-flop, evidently still fearful of the pull he has on their voters. 

Trump’s base follows Trump, not any policy adherence, conservative or otherwise. Only 20 percent of his base is so far right that they want to deport young adults who were brought to this nation as young children. But if Dreamers lose their DACA status, they would join other law-abiding undocumented immigrants whom the Department of Homeland Security has vowed to detain “without abandon.” ICE acting director Thomas Homan warned back in June, “If you’re in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable … You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.”

A little over two weeks after Trump’s inauguration, 23-year-old Daniel Ramirez Medina was arrested at his family home in suburban Seattle by ICE agents. Granted protected status under Obama’s executive action, Medina suddenly found himself locked up for six weeks in federal detention. He claims federal agents forged a confession to fabricate gang affiliations. A 22-year-old Dreamer studying to become a math teacher was detained by ICE agents hours after she spoke at an immigrants’ rights press conference in Mississippi back in March. Weeks later, ICE agents arrested 23-year-old Francisco Rodriguez Dominguez, a Dreamer in Portland who has attended the same church for two decades, and 21-year-old DACA recipient Emmanuel Ayala Frutos, who has lived in Portland since the age of 6.

At least 43 people who once had DACA status have been deported since Trump took office, according to data provided by ICE to Vice News in May. DACA revocations grew by 25 percent in Trump’s first three months in office, compared with the same period last year. Arrests of non-criminal immigrants have more than doubled during that same period. Just this week, Motel 6 employees were forced to stop handing over their guest lists to ICE agents after more than 20 undocumented immigrants were detained at the discount hotel chain in Arizona, several of whom allowed ICE agents who knocked on their doors to enter without a search warrant.

For all of the Trump supporters who chanted “build the wall” to fend off threats to cultural integration and the fabled influx of brown savages built up on right-wing media, U.S-educated young people who are fluent in English are hardly the most imminent threat. Trump himself has repeatedly articulated sentiments on this subject that sound more in line with the Obama administration’s decision to prioritize the deportation of criminals over the deportation of undocumented immigrants whose only offense was being in the country illegally -- hence his campaign’s focus on “angel moms,” women whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants.

“We want to get massive border security. And I think that both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, I think they agree with it,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. While Schumer’s claim that "we agreed it would be the Dream Act" is likely just trolling, Democrats have a duty here: They must take advantage of a president who is desperate for praise and positive press to protect these young people and their dreams.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

MORE FROM Sophia Tesfaye