A week after President Trump’s announcement that was supposed to clarify the fate of the DACA program, there is widespread confusion about its future among both immigrant advocates and those pushing for its abolition.
The person primarily responsible for this is Trump himself, who over the past week has sent several messages that if Congress fails to act within the six-month time frame set by his attorney general, then he would intervene in some way that he has yet to specify.
Trump began backtracking within hours of Attorney General Jeff Session’s ultimatum to Congress when he tweeted that he would “revisit the issue” if Congress did not act.
Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017
That was followed by comments he made to reporters that “I have a love for these people, and hopefully Congress will be able to help them and do it properly … And really we have no choice. We have to be able to do something, and I think it’s going to work out very well. And long-term it’s going to be the right solution.”
Those comments were reinforced by a swift response to Nancy Pelosi’s request that he tweet a message to reassure DACA recipients.
For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2017
“For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about — No action!”
Yet his reassurances have not helped convince immigrant advocates or DACA recipients that they can count on Trump to intervene on their behalf should Congress fail to act.
That’s because it is hard to know which view of the so-called “dreamers” Trump believes in more deeply — one professing love for them, or an alternative view that they are lawbreakers who should be deported, as articulated by Trump’s closest advisor Steve Bannon in his 60 Minutes interview over the weekend. Bannon said the only pathway for DACA recipients was for them to “self-deport” when their two-year work permits run out.
Despite support for them on both sides of the aisle, it seems unlikely that Congress could actually agree on an issue as divisive and emotional as this one in light of its past record on this and almost every other complex policy issue it has had to confront since January.
In fact, instead of lighting a fire under Congress to move on the issue, the six month ultimatum seems to have had the opposite effect, as GOP lawmakers and the White House maneuver to tie DACA renewal with a range of other “border enforcement” issues. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the New York Times this week that DACA is at the “end of that list (of immigration enforcement issues), not at the beginning.” A session on DACA that the Senate Judiciary Committee was due to hold Wednesday has also been postponed.
For now, few are counting on Trump’s tweets of support and “love” for dreamers to translate into action, because they seem at odds with both his tough statement last week backing Session’s repeal announcement, and Sessions’ strong law and order message itself that “dreamers” had broken the law, and shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from American largesse.
“No one knows what he (Trump) is going to do,” said Tanya Broder, a senior staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. “There is a lot of confusion and a lot of anxiety for young people who are trying to plan for their lives.”
That’s certainly the case with Mayra Lozano, a 21-year-old senior at UC Berkeley who came to the United States with her parents from Mexico when she was 4. A DACA recipient, she was planning to apply to attend law school next fall. But she is fearful that if she applies and is admitted, she would have to take out loans to get through, and if her work permit were revoked, she would have no way of repaying them, let alone to practice law.
For now, she says, she will take her chances and apply. “They are putting more obstacles in our way, but I am just going to keep going,” she said.
Listen to Mayra Lozano in this EdSource podcast.
Many are hoping the multiple lawsuits seeking a reversal of Trump’s plan will pay off. But until that happens, DACA recipients will continue to find themselves in an anxious gray area, as they and their advocates press for action on Capitol Hill and at the White House — along with trying to divine the meaning of the president’s latest tweet on the subject.
Reports that DACA recipients are being questioned and detained near the Texas border is also undermining confidence in Trump’s assurances that they will have nothing to worry about for the next six months at least. “It’s chaos that is definitely going to result in more litigation,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, a leading immigrant advocacy organization.
“The clock is ticking on their work permits, which also affects their driver’s licenses in many cases and their ability to carry out their lives,” she said. “It’s truly cruel to force people into this legal uncertainty when they’re just trying to work, pay taxes, take care of families, and live normal lives.”