By J. K. Schmid
The two major parties in the United States have driven themselves to the rhetorical breaking point. Without direct, honest engagement with the forces and populations that they ostensibly manage and service, The GOP and the Democrats seem poised to careen themselves, and the country at large, towards long-term ruin domestically and abroad, politically and materially. Current US immigration policy has created a toxic atmosphere for American immigrants and their neighbors, yet somehow, if the certain portions of the DREAM Act are rescinded next year, the situation could be even worse.
Nancy A. Pelosi, (D-CA) and minority leader in the US House of Representatives, was shouted down in a confrontation with immigrant activists at a press conference in her home district, San Francisco, Monday. Chants that continually interrupted the representative included phrases such as “shut down ICE” and “all 11 million.”  The incident reveals an expanding conflict between the US government and its undocumented immigrants that has now enveloped the country’s center and center-left factions. The crisis reached a new level of intensity when US President Donald J. Trump announced that he will be rescinding former President Barack H. Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. Immigrants and statehouses immediately filed suit to sue the current administration.
DACA, a selective approach to immigration policy enforcement, established a two-year deferment, with the opportunity for renewal, of deportation proceedings for undocumented arrivals that met certain criteria. DACA benefits are limited to those who arrived in the US under the age of 16 and have lived in the US since 2007. Further, these beneficiaries must have received a high school diploma, or its equivalent, be currently enrolled in school, or have been honorably discharged from the US armed forces. Last week, the growing list of litigants suing the Trump administration came to encompass 20 states and the District of Columbia, with Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh being the most recent to join suit. During the Trump campaign, repeal of DACA was declared a “day one” priority, and here, eight months later, he may be making good on his promise. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the rescission September 5.
But Trump’s attitude towards immigrants,  much like the Democrats’, remains unclear. In the face of instant backlash, the president almost immediately countered with an offer of a six month delay on rescission, and an urge for Congress to act in the meantime. Since that time, Trump, Pelosi, and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) claim to have worked out a deal that will save DACA, or at least its recipients, but no act of Congress has been passed.
The wild whipsawing between the two parties has likely triggered this week’s confrontation. It’s become clear just how perilous the immigrant community’s position is. Without the force of law, the undocumented are at the mercy of whichever executive inhabits the White House. “Mercy” here should be emphasized. This is not a partisan issue. Barack Obama deported 2.5 million immigrants during his 8-year tenure, this is more than any other president in history, and more than the combined efforts of the first president Bush and Bill Clinton. While the hardcore ethno-nationalists such as Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka are out of the White House, it is unsurprising that protestors are skeptical of whatever the Democrats and Republicans have worked out. Whatever infrastructure the last administration left in place, is now in possession of Trump.
One such piece of infrastructure is a component of what induced the otherwise undocumented into enrolling into DACA to begin with. In exchange for the opportunity to secure driver’s licenses and work permits, recipients were required to provide data such as address history and biometrics. Should Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) begin targeting parties on this list, it’s hard to imagine what other information the administration would want in order to rapidly and efficiently round up these individuals for incarceration and ultimately deportation. The aforementioned litigants argue that this will deny the recipients due process.
Another aspect of DACA reveals the fundamentally flawed premise of US immigration policy. DACA recipients are required to have clean criminal records, that is to say records absent of felonies and serious misdemeanors. Immigrants, illegal or otherwise, commit crimes at a conspicuously reduced rate compared to those in the US of native birth. The recent agitation on behalf of “all 11 million” also reveals another flaw. There are approximately 800,000 DACA recipients protected by the executive order. Over one-and-a-half million such immigrants are eligible. So while these recipients are but a fraction of a larger population, Pew Research reveals that it is a fraction of a fraction: there are over 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States.
While Democrats taunt Trump and his fellow Republicans over having not yet begun construction of a wall, both lose sight of the significantly larger issue at hand. The same Pew Research reveals that 8 million of these immigrants are workers, and though a minority in every job sector, they are an indispensable part of the US workforce. The suit against Trump cites the incalculable economic impact this kind of disruption will bring about, but ignores the larger ramifications of expelling the approximately 10 million not “protected” by DACA, the supermajority of whom have lived in the US for more than a decade.
At an even more basic level, the conversations between party leaderships deny the basic reality that has generated this crisis. No matter what Trump’s designs are for Fortress America: radar-guided chainguns, heat rays, or 30-foot-tall sheets of lexan, the economic inequalities between the United States and everywhere else in the world demand arbitrage as expressed by labor migration. As long as capital and jobs can flow freely across oceans and borders, migrants will follow these forces. “Follow” may be the wrong term here, as immigrants are being pulled into this untenable situation.
Beyond all this are the civil and human rights concerns, US citizens and legal residents are being incarcerated alongside illegal immigrants. The inevitable periods of indefinite detention, coupled with a lack of access to legal support and ultimately exile from one’s home after decades of residence, are monstrously inhuman, regardless of nationality.
Until a vigorous and rigorous conversation begins to cover and engage with these real issues surrounding this perceived conservative crisis and real center and left crisis, parties will continue to fruitlessly expend political and real capital and deplete real power among an accessible and interested polity. The GOP runs the risk of strangling the country economically, and antagonizing its neighbors. The Democratic party runs the risk of alienating a substantial voter base until it has completely reduced it ranks into generational or perhaps permanent irrelevance. All the while, people suffer.
- Gonzales, Richard. “Pelosi Is Confronted By Protesters Angry About Her Immigration Talks With Trump.” NPR. September 18, 2017. Accessed September 19, 2017.
- “Pelosi Is Confronted By Protesters Angry About Her Immigration Talks With Trump.” BBC. September 18, 2017. Accessed September 18, 2017.
- Laslo, Matt. “Everyone Is Confused About What Trump Is Doing With DACA.” Rolling Stone. September 14, 2017. Accessed September 18, 2017.
- Hasan, Mehdi. “Barack Obama: The deporter-in-chief.“ Al Jazeera News. January 14, 2017. Accessed January 14, 2017.
- Cohn, D’Vera, and Krogstad, Jens Manuel, and Passel, Jeffrey S. “5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.” April 27, 2017. Accessed September 19, 2017.
- Clark, Dan. “Will Trump’s decision on DACA hurt New York’s economy?” September 10, 2017. Accessed September 19, 2017.
- Peralta, Eyder. “You Say You’re An American, But What If You Had To Prove It Or Be Deported?” December 22, 2016. Accessed September 19, 2017.