Earlier this week, Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., issued a scathing ruling that deemed President Donald Trump’s attempt to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as nothing short of “capricious” and “unlawful.” The program, which was a landmark Obama-era achievement, temporarily shielded certain Dreamers from deportation and allowed them to work and drive in the United States.
Bates, a George W. Bush appointee, argued that the current administration presented no adequate basis or explanation for its decision to terminate DACA back in September. He is the third judge to rule against the administration’s attempts to convert Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, into deportation targets.
What makes Bates’ ruling unique, however, is that, unlike federal judges in the 9th and 2nd Circuits, his ruling could revive the DACA program in its entirety. That means that the same federal government that Trump and his allies are trying to reimagine in their image would be forced to accept new DACA applications and renew current permits. It would also re-establish advanced parole ― a lesser-known provision of the original DACA program that allowed Dreamers to travel abroad under strict circumstances.
And yet this is not quite the life raft that we Dreamers were hoping for, not by a long shot.
Fernanda Duran, the communications manager at the pro-migrant organization CASA, told The New York Times that “this is the first ray of hope that these Dreamers have had in a very long time.”
This much is true. The ruling from Judge Bates is the first hopeful sign that many Dreamers, especially teenagers currently graduating from high school and aging into the program, have experienced since Congress failed to attach immigration measures to any legislative vehicle that would have addressed Trump’s manufactured crisis.
Bates, however, stayed his ruling and gave the federal government 90 days to resubmit its reasoning for terminating the DACA program. It’s hard to envision how the administration could justify a rational policy basis for ending DACA beyond racial animus ― a point made by U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis in March: “One might reasonably infer that a candidate who makes overtly bigoted statements on the campaign trail might be more likely to engage in similarly bigoted action in office.”
But on Thursday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said during a round of questioning at a hearing in the U.S. House that the administration will respond to the judge’s request. This means the Trump administration will strike back with force in an attempt to eliminate DACA once and for all.
So much for treating Dreamers like me “with heart,” Mr. President!
Once again, hundreds of thousands of aspiring Americans are reminded that the country to which they pledged allegiance and to which they are actively contributing is also the same country that is trying to deport them to nations undergoing political, economic or social turbulence. Dreamers are American ― they grew up in the United States and went to local schools, but they are simply lacking a piece of paper ― and a majority of this nation’s citizens appear to agree with this. But the idea of granting Dreamers citizenship has morphed into a talking point for politicians who are eager to appear like reasonable and caring people.
At the end of the day, talk is cheap, especially to those of us who wake up every morning knowing that our livelihood in the United States might come to an end after a piece of plastic in our wallet expires or once Trump and his allies accomplish their goal to deport all immigrants and refugees.
What we need right now is bold and decisive action. No more stalling, because we all know how this story ends if Dreamers are not given a chance to adjust their immigration status: with their swift and merciless deportations.
Right now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House is attempting to force a vote on Dreamer legislation using a strategy that involves invoking an obscure rule known as the “queen of the hill.” But for this strategy to work, Republicans will have to buck their spineless and do-nothing speaker, Paul Ryan, and put actual skin in the game.
The courts have also granted Trump a unique opportunity ― a real chance to undo this entire mess and re-establish a popular program that enables Dreamers to continue their educations and to excel in their respective fields of study. We have Dreamers who are realtors, teachers and future doctors. Are these the “bad” people we want to deport from our country?
Trump has a choice to make: Does he listen to voters all across America or does he continue down a nativist path?
For someone who can lie through his teeth and say that “Republicans want to fix DACA far more than the Democrats do” and later follow it up with “NO MORE DACA DEAL,” Trump truly has his priorities out of order. That might be why he is asking candidates seeking his endorsement about their stance on DACA, creating yet another way for him to either push or pull the idea that Dreamers should get to stay or be deported.
Unsurprisingly, Trump has a record of shifting his positions based on the way the wind is blowing or who spoke to him last.
If Trump truly wants to handle his self-made DACA crisis with “heart,” then he would allow Bates’ order to go into effect and let Congress pass Dreamer-specific legislation that is fair and balanced ― and won’t use people’s lives as bargaining chips for a racist immigration agenda.
Trump has a choice to make: Does he listen to voters all across America, even in red states, who support protections for young immigrants brought to the country as children? Or does he continue down the nativist path that right-wing extremists, like his senior adviser Stephen Miller, have carved out for him?
As Jennifer Rubin explained in The Washington Post: “With regard to [the] resolution of the ‘dreamers’ issue — which some White House advisers such as Stephen Miller and some on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), thought would be a GOP winner — there is evidence that Republicans badly misplayed their hand.“
When it comes to showing true leadership, and, dare I say compassion, this is a rare moment for the Trump administration to undo one of its harmful acts. Otherwise, the president’s real sentiments will be clear: Dreamers are subhuman in his eyes, and their deportation is not a question of if, but when.
Juan Escalante is an immigrant advocate and online strategist who has been fighting for the Dream Act and pro-immigration policies at all levels of government for the past 10 years.