Young immigrants see DREAM killed by politics

SAN DIEGO — How’s this for a whodunnit: Who really killed the deal to save Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — President Trump or congressional Democrats?

The question isn’t simply, “Who killed DACA?” We know the answer to that. It was Trump who nixed the Obama-era program last September and then called on Congress to provide a permanent legislative solution by March 5.

After lawmakers missed that deadline, the judicial branch came to the rescue. A federal judge declared that the administration could not pull the rug out from under DACA recipients by changing the rules. So, while no new applications are being taken, existing applicants have a certain degree of protection as long as they continue to renew their status.

It’s a Band-Aid over a bullet wound. It’s also a lost opportunity to offer legal status and eventual citizenship not only to roughly 700,000 DACA recipients but also — under a generous proposal from the White House in January — another 1.1 million Dreamers not enrolled in the program.

Yet the question of who derailed, over the last few months, the political negotiation to save DACA is more complicated.

Sadly, when they talk about immigration, neither liberals nor conservatives are proficient in “complicated.” That would require honesty about the fact that neither political party cares much about the Dreamers, and both have done a lousy job of dealing with the low-hanging fruit of the immigration debate.

After all, if lawmakers won’t give legal status to undocumented young people who have lived in the United States their entire lives, speak English fluently, go to college, have jobs and followed the rules to register for DACA, then how will they ever have the bandwidth and backbone to legalize their working-class, less-educated and less-assimilated parents?

However, both parties are fluent in the languages of over-simplification, blame shifting, and self-preservation through avoidance of the topic. That’s why most of the chatter coming out of Washington about DACA and Dreamers amounts to feverish attempts by both parties to malign the other side.

Trump is good at this game. Unlike most Republicans, when it comes to immigration, he doesn’t wait to be attacked as callous, indifferent or racist. He goes on the offensive.

The president recently tweeted: “DACA is dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act, and now everyone wants to get onto the DACA bandwagon … No longer works. Must build Wall and secure our borders with proper Border legislation. Democrats want No Borders, hence drugs and crime!”

For Trump, talking — or tweeting — about immigration is like making stew. DACA? Wall? Border? Drugs? Crime? Sure, put them all in. Stir vigorously. Then bring to a boil.

Still, the president is not wrong to fault Congress for its dithering on DACA. Neither party even broke a sweat the last few weeks in trying to find a solution.

It’s all about fear. Republicans are paranoid that they will be pummeled by the Ann Coulter wing of the GOP, which includes the nativists that desperately want to make America white again. Democrats are just as afraid of trying to convince the beleaguered blue-collar voters they lost in the presidential election that the solution to their anxiety over lost jobs is to legalize more than a million young people who are eager to work.

How did we get here? Trump is not wrong that Democrats in Congress played a big role in undermining the Dreamers, and that goes all the way back to 2001, when the DREAM Act was first proposed. The Dreamers wouldn’t be on the brink of deportation — if that’s really where they are — if five conservative Democratic senators hadn’t killed the DREAM Act in December 2010. And since then, Democratic leaders have — one by one — sprinted away from Dreamers who demanded a legislative fix.

It’s not just that Democrats want to preserve a wedge issue, or that peeling off 1.8 million Dreamers from an undocumented population estimated at more than 11 million will hurt the chances of legalizing more people. It’s also that Democrats don’t want to be known as the “amnesty” party.

So when Trump laid out the terms under which he would legalize a whole bunch of young people — i.e., an end to “chain migration” — Democrats balked. Not because it was a bad deal for immigrants but because it was a bad deal for Democrats.

If you really think that the debate over DACA has anything at all to do with the Dreamers, then you’re the one who is dreaming.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

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