The Reification of Undocumented Immigrants: Trump’s Termination of DACA

Since the beginning of his short political ‘career,’ President Trump has been unwaveringly against one particular group of people: immigrants. Trump has built his campaign and presidency around the issue of immigration, and ‘building a wall’ remains a key policy item for him. Ever since Trump’s inauguration as the US President last year, undocumented people have faced the horrors of an increasing number of US Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and deportations. Millions of people are having their families ripped apart because of President Trump’s policies, and one particular group of young immigrants is being reified and used as political bargaining chips by President Trump.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is a 2012 executive order signed by former-President Obama. It gives undocumented people between the ages of 15 and 36 the ability to apply for a two-year renewable legal permit to live and work in the US. To qualify, DACA recipients must meet certain education requirements, have committed no crimes, arrived in the US before the age of 16, and be able to afford the $465 first-time and renewal application fee. DACA does not provide any sort of legal status to undocumented folks. Instead, it serves as a temporary reprieve from deportation and gives undocumented youth the eligibility to legally work within the US. While DACA students do not qualify for federal financial aid, DACA does allow for students to enroll in college, pay in-state tuition fees, and gain access to some state financial aid packages. This varies massively from state to state, however, and seven states currently ban undocumented youth from receiving financial aid and paying in-state resident tuition. DACA is clearly not a perfect system, and it leaves many undocumented folks out who either do not meet all the eligibility requirements or cannot afford to pay the fees. Still, DACA has served an estimated 800,000 youth from around the world since its implementation, and continues to provide work permits and deportation relief to the approximately 690,000 people, who are predominately women born in Latin America, still enrolled in the program.

President Trump’s disdain for the DACA program has been evident since the beginning of his presidential campaign. During the launch of his presidential campaign back in June, 2015, Trump announced “I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration, immediately.” Later, at a campaign event in August, 2016, Trump stated he would “immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties.”

After being elected, President Trump did not act ‘immediately,’ however. Instead, in a surprising shift in tone, Trump suggested that some sort of accommodation should be made for young immigrants. Though not backing off his pledge to end DACA, according to Time’s writer Michael Scherer, Trump seemed to begin to show some ‘sympathy’ to DACA recipients. Nonetheless, any sympathy Trump may or may not have felt did not stop the President from uprooting the lives of thousands of people living within the United States. In September of 2017, as promised, Trump ordered an end to the program that allowed young immigrants to work and live free of fear of being torn away from their homes.

DACA recipients whose work permits were going to expire before March 5 of 2018 were given just one month to renew their permits. No new applications, it was announced, would be accepted. Though immigration officials stated former-DACA recipients would not necessarily be targeted for deportation, all protections for these young people would be stripped away after their permits expired.

Trump argued that his reasoning for ending the DACA program was not that these young immigrants did not deserve to live in the US, but that Obama had acted outside of his role as the head of the executive branch by performing a legislative function. As such, Trump called on Congress to act and provide legislation to determine the fate of the young immigrants.

Congress, unsurprisingly, failed to act. In January 2018, the US government shut down, as no deal could be reached over immigration. Trump offered a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, but demanded $25 billion in exchange to build his wall between the US and Mexico. While many Democrats refused to fund the government until immigration was addressed, eventually a short-term spending-bill was passed without any resolution on the issue of immigration. The Senate did attempt to hold a week-long immigration debate, which hoped to end with the provision of legislation, but it failed to be successful.

While Trump originally contended his administration “will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion,” the President has recently issued a series of frightening tweets, stating “‘Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!’” Trump has continuously refused to allow for undocumented immigrants to receive any type of deportation relief until his border wall is paid for by the US public. Trump, in other words, is using the lives and bodies of young immigrants living in the US for his own political agenda. The use of human beings as bargaining chips is not only despicable because it denies the right to dignity and opportunity, but also because it dehumanizes and reifies the people who will suffer from the discontinuation of DACA.  It is not just that Trump does not respect undocumented immigrants living in America; it is that he does not acknowledge their humanity and treats their bodies as if they were objects.

Some hope has come from the judicial branch of the US government, however. Two federal judges have issued injunctions, temporarily blocking the Trump administration from ending the DACA program. Arguing that the Trump administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York stated Trump did not have “legally adequate reasons” for ending DACA. Somewhat surprisingly, President Trump has so far complied with the injunction, allowing those who have previously benefited from DACA to continue to do so. While new applicants will still not be accepted, young immigrants who in the past have been granted DACA can apply for renewals. The DACA case will now have to make its way through the court system of the US to determine if Trump can or cannot rescind the program. Trump has tried to expedite the process by attempting to skip the famously left-leaning 9th Circuit Appeals Court in California and taking the case directly to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court has denied taking up the case without the lower court’s ruling. It is important to keep in mind though that this is a small victory. Even if the Supreme Court eventually rules in favor of DACA, millions of people who are not a part of the DACA program will continue to live in fear because of their legal status within the US. Much more must be done if the US is to be a country which truly upholds “liberty and justice for all.”