NOTE: Before reading my thoughts, I recommend you check out Dara Lind’s reporting and analysis on this topic. She’s phenomenal, and a must-follow for immigration news.
I spent last week at the beach on Galveston Island, trying to recover from the past year of teaching. Most years, I spend June pointedly not thinking about my students, but times are different now. While I was there, a rumor came my way that the mother of one of my students was detained by ICE shortly after the school year ended. There was concern that this boy, who came to the United States as a three-year-old, might have to leave the country. I don’t know if it’s true; I pray it’s not, and I may not know either way until August. But I have a feeling this is what the next few years will be like: a lot of rumors, a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty.
Thursday evening, big immigration news filled my Twitter feed: the Department of Homeland Security rescinded the executive order known as DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans). Briefly, DAPA was designed to protect the undocumented parents of citizen children. Really, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA are complementary policies: it’s great if you promise not to deport the high-achieving high school student I wrote about a few weeks ago, but it means a lot less if you deport her parents, forcing her to either a) relocate to Mexico with them or b) take responsibility for her younger siblings in her parents’ absence, hobbling her own future in the process.
There was a lot of consternation on my Twitter feed over the memo, which was released on the five-year anniversary of the day Obama signed DACA. But, while the gesture was ugly, it was also fairly meaningless. While DACA has helped around 750,000 young immigrants, DAPA was never enacted. After Obama announced it, 26 governors (all Republicans) managed to stop it in the courts. So, by rescinding the order, the DHS didn’t actually do anything.
On the other hand, another aspect of the memo caused the opposite reaction. After announcing the end of DAPA, the DHS memo says, “DACA, however, will remain in effect.” The response to these words ranged from cautiously optimistic to jubilant: the Trump administration, the word went out, had officially decided to commit to protecting the DREAMers, young, often high-achieving immigrants who were brought here as young children.
But that bright moment was short-lived. When questioned, the DHS clarified that the memo sent out on Thursday was all about DAPA and that, in mentioning DACA, the administration had not meant to imply that a final decision on DACA had been made. So the status of the DREAMers remains up in the air–though in the meantime the administration continues to process and approve DACA applications and renewals.
To be clear, this is still good news: rescinding DACA would be a travesty, and so the fact that Trump has still not ended it has to be taken as a positive. Plus, as Dara Lind points out, the longer the administration lets DACA remain in effect, the harder it will be to end the program. My guess is that the Trump administration will continue to play this game for the foreseeable future, maybe using DACA as a bargaining chip in legislative deals, maybe using it to prove that Trump has a “big heart,” but hesitating to give the DREAMers any real reassurance about their status.
But you have to remember a couple of points. First, DACA is no ironclad protection against deportation–if you have it, you’re still considered an “illegal,” you just have certain privileges (a work permit, the ability to obtain a driver’s license) and ICE considers you a lower priority for removal. But it is not a form of amnesty or a guarantee of safety. ICE is explicit about this. In other words, DACA isn’t a promise; it’s a shrug.
And DACA is easy to lose. Break any law, even a minor traffic statute, and you lose it. Miss a renewal deadline, or lack the funds to pay renewal fees–you lose it. And once you’ve lost DACA, in some ways you’re worse off than if you never had it, since DACA enrollees give the government private information that can be used to track them down.
So, for all of the fireworks around DACA and DAPA, nothing in last week’s order substantially changed, for better or worse, the situation of many undocumented immigrants in the US.
Instead, the most important immigration-related news from last week may have been the least-remarked. Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, told members of the House Appropriations Committee, “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.”
In my piece for Alternet, I wrote about how my students are dimming their lives, how they and their families are letting go of family pets, narrowing their college searches, and, yes, looking over their shoulders everywhere they go. I argued that the fear I described was by design:
That logic, in which cruelty functions as a deterrent and fear is a disincentive, is likely behind the highly public, large-scale ICE raids in February, and ICE’s decision to encroach on areas previously considered sensitive, like churches and courthouses. Such logic may also explain why Texas Republicans paid no attention to city police chiefs who said SB4 would make immigrant communities less safe. After all, if undocumented immigrants don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods, aren’t they more likely to leave?
When I wrote that, I worried that I was going too far, because, as I said, stripping people of their dignity, opportunities, and joy in order to achieve our legal goals makes us into monsters. But the Department of Homeland Security proved me right. They want undocumented immigrants scared. They want my students to fear for their parents as soon as they’re dropped off at school. They want these young people to live smaller, more miserable lives.
If nothing else, hopefully Homan’s comments can finally put to bed the lie that too many of my Trump-supporting friends still believe: that ICE is targeting “bad hombres” and dangerous criminals. Homan admitted it’s not true. “Most of the criminal aliens we find in the interior of the United States, they entered as a non-criminal,” he said. “If we wait for them to violate yet another law against a citizen of this country, then it’s too late. We shouldn’t wait for them to become a criminal.”
In other words, ICE considers all undocumented immigrants to be bad hombres or, at best, potential bad hombres.
Homan also compared his agency’s efforts to those of the highway patrol. ““The highway patrol can’t arrest everybody for speeding, but if we speed, we know it’s a possibility we [could] get stopped. It should be no different with immigration enforcement.”
I could be wrong, but I’d wager that Homan, like most people, has received a speeding ticket. If he has, I’d wager that Homan, like most people, dealt with it by paying a fine or maybe taking a Defensive Driving class. I doubt his family was broken apart because he went 74 mph in a 65 mph zone.
I hope Homan re-read his quotes and felt embarrassed about that comparison. If not, I hope he spends some time thinking about the different outcomes of a deportation order and a speeding ticket. But most of all, I hope the rumors I heard last week are wrong, and that the boy at the center of those rumors will be in class come August, rested and ready to write college application essays.
[Photo by Hope Swearingen, 2017]