To appreciate why Trump is so wrong and why the Dreamers deserve to stay, one needs to understand why they are here.
They were brought as children by parents seeking work that wasn’t to be found in Mexico or safety from the endless bloodshed in Central America.
And we welcomed those people. Yes, we welcomed them. We needed them.
We needed them — and still do — to pick our apples, oranges and vegetables, slaughter and carve up our chickens and beefsteaks, clean our toilets, nursemaid our children, build our houses, dig our utility ditches and fill other essential but mostly low-paid jobs for which few of our born citizens seem able or willing. As an aging society, we need more young people, not fewer, to help pay the entitlement bills that are coming due.
“Growing up with migrant workers, I knew that they usually worked harder than we did,” writes Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, in his recent book, Conscience of a Conservative. “Sometimes my dad and my uncles would hire a few of my buddies from school to help with the harvest or the branding. They would last maybe a day or two and were often unreliable. But our Mexican migrant laborers worked hard, and we could count on them.”
My oldest son, who helps run a tree company in Connecticut, says the same thing of his Hispanic employees. They work harder and better than anyone else.
Almost every immigrant group that has come to this country, whether “legal” or not, has worked harder and better than anyone else. If the American experience were to be defined in a single sentence, that's it.
As for the parents of the Dreamers, we made a collective decision, so much as by what we didn’t do as what we did, that these immigrants were needed and welcome no matter how they came. It was a national consensus that the Congress should have ratified. It would have done so, on several occasions, if it weren't for the outsized influence of minority factions in the two major parties. The Democrats have had their problems with labor opposition to guest workers, an inescapable issue in any immigration reform. The Republicans now have theirs, much worse, with the racists on their flank.
The young people whom Trump has put in peril — and if you can’t feel their fear and anguish, shame on you — are among the most productive citizens (in the truest sense) we have. To qualify for deferred action and for work permits under President Obama's executive order, they must be felony-free and be students or employed or in the military. An impressive 93 percent of those over 25 are employed. Some 900 are in the military. A Dreamer lost his life helping Hurricane Harvey victims. The Center for American Progress calculates that ending DACA could cost the economy $460.3 billion in lost output over the next 10 years and reduce Medicare and Social Security revenue by $24.6 billion.
Most of the Dreamers have only dim memories of the countries where they were born and many don't speak the languages. Typical is a 25-year old Buncombe County employee who told the Asheville Citizen-Times that she hasn’t been to Mexico since she was 2, has no family there, and “can’t really even imagine what it would be like” to live there.
The situation is richly ironic. Unless our ancestors were on these shores to welcome Columbus, Cortez and the Pilgrims, you and I have less inherent right to this land than the Dreamers do. California, home to more of them than any other state, was wrested from Mexico, along with the entire Southwest, by the most unjust war in our history, which was waged primarily to expand the market for black slavery.
A president who claims inherent authority to selectively bar immigration from certain Muslim nations has poor standing to repudiate Barack Obama's decision to exercise his authority on behalf of the Dreamers.
According to the Pew Research Center, six presidents before Obama invoked executive authority to protect immigrants: Haitian, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Vietnamese and Cuban refugees under Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy; and the spouses and unmarried children of people legalized by congressional immigration legislation under Reagan and Bush.
What makes Trump act so differently? It can’t be principle, as he has never been faithful to any. He's been all over the lot about the Dreamers, who would be foolish to rely on his subsequent tweet that they shouldn’t worry. That he acted on the day that 10 right-wing state attorneys general had said they would sue him is no excuse; he should have said, “So sue me.” Congratulations to our North Carolina attorney general, Josh Stein, who has joined a suit to protect the Dreamers.
That Trump left the announcement to the mean and nasty Attorney General Jeff Sessions may explain who likely prodded him into the decision. But there’s another irony: the attorney general’s order to federal prosecutors to resume seeking the harshest possible penalties for drug offenders is no less an example of prosecutorial discretion than Obama’s order to defer action against childhood arrivals.
Trump may be scheming to link relief for the Dreamers to construction of the border wall that he knew Mexico wouldn't pay for when he promised that it would. Mark Meadows, the poster boy for gerrymandering, would probably help him. Let's be clear: The wall issue has nothing to do with the Dreamers. For members of Congress to let Trump and Sessions use them as hostages for such a calamitous boondoggle would make his guilt theirs. Rather, it is the moral duty and political imperative of Congress to pass clean, uncomplicated and uncorrupted relief for the Dreamers.