Chasing the Children

Child migrants also flee political crises, too. Mexican kids protesting against the kidnapping of 43 Iguala students. Los Angeles, September 2014.

Child migrants also flee political crises, too. Mexican kids protesting against the kidnapping of 43 Iguala students. Los Angeles, September 2014.

President Donald Trump has ordered an end to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which protects the nearly 800,000 people in the United States brought illegally into the country from deportation.

While Trump himself had indicated that he might leave DACA intact, his steadfastly xenophobic base wanted it gone, and impending legal challenges from several conservative state attorneys general forced the president’s hand on the issue. With his approval ratings still low, Trump needed to throw his supporters another piece of meat.

It needs to be stated up front how cruel this move is. Even one teenager, who is for all intents and purposes an American, getting deported because they were brought over the border at an early age, is unbearable to imagine. Surely critics of undocumented migration would agree.

If Immigration and Customs Enforcement does expand and round up thousands of those affected, American history will rightly relegate this to the same shameful chapter as the internment of Japanese-Americans and the forced resettlement of Native Americans.

And if expanded federal law enforcement agencies can be used against those once protected by DACA, they can be used against anyone. If there was ever a “First they came for the immigrants, but I didn’t say anything…” moment, this is it.

The political fallout will be intense. While anti-immigration action is a winner with the populist wing of the Republican Party and the alt-right, it’s opposed by various sectors of organized capital. The states of New York and Washington have threatened to sue the federal government, giving the White House yet another legal headache. More marches and demonstrations are expected.

That’s not much comfort for the families who will be torn apart, and people sent back to countries where violence and crime had forced their families to flee in the first place.

What’s alarming about this move is that it’s an exercise of executive power where there’s little oversight. For what it’s worth, Trump’s travel ban has been entangled in court action, and a fractured Congress was unable to deliver his promise to undo Obamacare.

But a president has unchecked authority to undo a previous executive order. For example, Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio required no legislative or judicial signoff.

And as commander-in-chief of the military, while figures like National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis can act like “the adults in the room,” failure to follow his commands ultimately constant mutiny, which is what makes the president’s nuclear saber rattling with North Korea so ominous.

It’s easy to write this move off as another agenda item in the Trump’s campaign of ethnic cleansing, but something more cynical and perhaps morally repugnant is at work. Trump had previously stated that he had a soft spot for those protected by DACA, and admitted that he hoped his pardon for Arpaio, the patron saint of the xenophobic law-and-order voting sector, would have gotten good television ratings.

Trump’s approval ratings are stabilizing around at around 35 percent, a sign that this is the portion of the electorate who are loyal to him no matter if America’s fourth largest city is under water, there’s a nuclear stand-off with North Korea and no major piece of legislation gets signed. Time after time, the president has demonstrated that his principle concern is his image, how well liked he is and how big his rallies are.

More than acting on the pressing concerns of the nation, Donald Trump’s primary goal for the rest of his term is to retain this base intact.

The only thing that could defeat the president is a full Republican Party revolt against him and the Democrats bringing in a remarkably charismatic presidential candidate to oust an incumbent president, something they haven’t done since 1992. Both of those things happening don’t seem likely, so from Trump’s perspective, he’s making a safe bet by appeasing this 30 percent inside of shifting to the middle.

Here, then, is the one piece of good news. President Trump has reportedly wanted to delay rolling back DACA by another six months, giving Congress the authority to come up with a solution. Legal action against Trump, lobbying Congress and more demonstration and mass action can continue to stymie this administration and make it harder for it to govern, eroding support for those who see him as a strong leader.

This is a hard fight, because it involves both street action and formal political action. It must be sustained and in the mean time many people – good, innocent people – are going to suffer the government’s wrath.

Even if Trump is acting out of callous self-preservation instincts, failure to confront his action against DACA in the context of an energized white nationalist movement following the Charlottesville tragedy makes the situation that much scarier.

As Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said of Trump’s pending action, “It is also a cruel example of how the current administration’s advancement of policies that promote racial and ethnic profiling and xenophobia have further emboldened white nationalists, who have a history of contributing to a climate of fear and hate.”

Photograph courtesy of EsotericSapience. Published under a Creative Commons license.