Trump's attack on DACA: Part of a larger war on immigrants?

Either the GOP has been hijacked by anti-immigrant extremists or Trump is eager to rile up his base. Or both!

By Jeremy Binckes
Published January 21, 2018 10:00AM (EST)
 (Getty/Eric Baradat)
(Getty/Eric Baradat)

As the week ended, the Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children by their parents — were thrust into the center of the debate over who is responsible for this weekend's government shutdown. Republicans blamed Democrats for wanting to stand up for DACA recipients, who just want the government to uphold the agreement they made.

That was the icing on the cake of a week that indicated to certain immigrants that the worst vitriol heard during Donald Trump's campaign was true, and that they are going to be targeted.

"It is clear that the White House is no friend of the immigrant community," said Juan Guzman, policy and advocacy manager with United We Dream. "They have political interests and want to score political points here. Policy-wise, they want things that concern us a lot."

This was the week when the administration seriously ramped up its rhetoric against immigrants. Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' comments suggesting that too many immigrants are largely "illiterate in their own country" and possess "no skills" — the Department of Justice released a report on immigration and terrorism. In an ingenious sleight-of-hand, the report pointed out that "foreign-born" persons were responsible for three-quarters of international terrorism. When you think about it, foreign-born persons would be likely to commit international terrorism. The report was widely panned, with a national security expert saying it was "awfully thin." “There’s almost no rhyme or reason to the things they choose to include or not include" Karen Greenberg told the Washington Post. "They don’t explain it.”

The report considers only those incidents motivated by international terrorist groups — so instances of domestic terrorism are not counted. Moreover, individuals captured overseas, extradited and brought to the United States to face trial are included in the same category as people who emigrated to the United States and were charged with terrorism offenses years later.

The administration was forced to defend its policies on Wednesday, facing questions about its logic during a press briefing. Why after all, does the U.S. suddenly care about "preventing people from coming in who were conspiring, for instance, to go fight in Syria," in the words of one reporter? What does that have to do with protecting the United States? The answer can be distilled down to a simple us-versus-them.

"Donald Trump and [his administration] has proven that they are white supremacists and have white supremacist tendencies," Paola Mendoza, a filmmaker and artistic director for the Women's March, told Salon. "The way in which they are enacting that agenda is to ultimately limit the immigration of black and brown folks." That's also what activists said last year in a Salon Talks video interview.

"We know they have [deportation] in mind," Guzman said. "For us, it's not new. They exaggerate their claims and their alternative facts, and they're trying to present a picture to the American people that really doesn't exist."

The message is clear, especially in light of the president's recent comments that he'd rather see immigrants from Norway than from "s***hole countries" in Africa or Latin America. The message the world is receiving loud and clear is that the United States government no longer cares about people from those countries. This week, the administration also announced it would stop giving visas to low-skilled Haitian workers, ending a flow of money to the Caribbean nation that Trump paraded as a talking point during the presidential campaign.

What should be even more worrisome is that the government is ramping up arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants. NBC News reported that "immigration officers are picking up people in places where they once thought they were safe and taking into custody people who had not previously been targets." Those people included Jorge Garcia, 39, a landscaper in the Detroit area who has lived in the U.S. since childhood, but has now been separated from his wife and children and deported to Mexico. The San Francisco Chronicle reported this week that the government was planning operations in California that may lead to 1,500 people being arrested, "while sending a message that immigration policy will be enforced in the sanctuary state."

"We have seen an increased attack on immigrant communities since Donald Trump became president," Guzman told Salon. "We have seen the priority enforcement program that Obama had put in place — they got rid of it. They are like, everybody is a priority for deportation."

At some point the Republican immigration platform, which has typically been more balanced, was hijacked by the restrictionists like Jeff Sessions and his former protégé, White House aide Stephen Miller. Those who worked hard at trying to find a solution for the Dreamers have seen their efforts disappear.

That plan was ripped up by Trump, seemingly on the fly, as part of an "inconsistent" set of policies by the White House. "Trump said he wanted a deal, and he provided some guidance," Guzman said. "He provided that guidance and senators took it as a signal. Now it seems that he doesn't like it."

Guzman suggests this is scapegoating by the administration. With the Trump White House sinking in the polls and a midterm election coming up next fall, maybe riling up his base can shift the dynamic. It could also backfire in spectacular fashion.

"Seventy percent of Latinos in this country know [at least] one undocumented person, whether that’s a friend or family member," Mendoza said. "If you do not take care of the Dreamers, those Latinos are going to organize and vote all of you out of office."

Can Norwegians say that?

Jeremy Binckes

MORE FROM Jeremy BinckesFOLLOW jbinckes