🔒 Trump could spell the end of the Dream Act: Francis Wilkinson

In a recent hearing, Senator Dick Durbin revisited the Dream Act, a proposed path to citizenship for immigrants who arrived as children. Despite its strong economic and social justifications, the act has faced persistent opposition rooted in white nationalism. Durbin’s efforts highlight the struggle of Dreamers, integrated and contributing members of American society, against a backdrop of increasingly hostile immigration policies.

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By Francis Wilkinson

 US Senator Dick Durbin held a hearing in Washington last week while Stormy Daniels was testifying in Manhattan about her relations with Donald Trump. Durbin’s topic, the Dream Act, didn’t get quite as much attention. But in many ways, the story of the Dream Act is seedier than anything Daniels offered up about Trump. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for qualified immigrants who arrived in the US as children, has been around a while. Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, first introduced it in the Senate 23 years ago. His persistence has yet to pay off — but at least Durbin is still here to make the case. The legislation’s lead Republican sponsor, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, died before seeing it become law.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the executive action taken by President Barack Obama as a halfway measure in lieu of the stalled Dream Act, is now 12 years old itself. More than 800,000 noncitizens have used the program to obtain legal protection against deportation. Senator Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican who joined Durbin in supporting DACA, is dead now, too. Yet all these years later, the security of DACA recipients remains tenuous, and many potential Dreamers lack even DACA’s legal status, which enables them to work, study and live without the threat of imminent deportation.

Opposition to the Dream Act has always been the most clarifying element of US immigration politics. Moral arguments about immigrating “the right way” or “waiting in line” simply don’t apply. Many Dreamers arrived in the US before the age of 5. Were they supposed to lecture their parents on the proper mode of migration?

Economic arguments about Dreamers mostly point in the direction of legalization. The Department of Homeland Security found 343,000 DACA recipients employed in jobs that the department considers “essential.” After having invested in their educations, the public now reaps the benefits of their labor. A 2021 analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress found DACA recipient households paid $6.2 billion in federal taxes and $3.3 billion in state and local taxes. Legalization would reduce the risks that Dreamers currently face in starting businesses or buying property in a country that hasn’t committed to their future, unleashing additional economic energy.

Socially, the arguments for Dreamers are even stronger. It’s not just that most Dreamers are culturally, functionally, American. They are integrated into American communities, workforces and institutions. Many Dreamers live in mixed families with US citizen family members. According to a 2019 estimate by the Migration Policy Institute, 1.3 million unauthorized immigrants were married to a US citizen spouse, and 3.5 million lived with at least one US citizen child under the age of 18. The Center for Migration Studies estimates that more than 40% of mixed-status households own their homes. The social costs of ripping apart such families are incalculable.

The case for Dreamers has always been logically and morally sound, which is why Durbin and allies designated them as a special class to begin with — to highlight the most sympathetic cohort of immigrants. Who could oppose easing their plight?

The answer, of course, is people who worry that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” in Trump’s explicitly fascist locution. White nationalism doesn’t distinguish between categories of migrants. It distinguishes between categories of skin color and culture. Most Dreamers are the wrong hue. (Thus Trump’s lament that the US lacks immigrants from “nice” countries such as Denmark and Switzerland. It’s not immigration that Trump opposes; it’s immigrants who aren’t White.)

Trump’s plan to “carry out  the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,” using militia to hunt down undocumented immigrants, build camps to imprison them and then deport them by the millions, is a frontal challenge not just to long-settled immigrants but to American pluralism and democracy. The Fugitive Slave Act, which may be the American policy most proximate to Trump’s dystopian vision, heightened tensions between slave and free states and led to mob violence. Trump’s plan envisions a similar encroachment on the democratic sensibilities and community values of cities and states that don’t share MAGA’s — or the Confederacy’s — obsession with racial purity. It’s also another clue that Trump hopes to add the US to the ranks of authoritarian states that he admires — those defined not by ideals of pluralism or equality before the law but of herrenvolk democracy,  where citizens who look and behave the right way are empowered, and everyone else is not.

Dreamers may have long histories in America, but they have no place in MAGA’s color-coded vision of the American future. In the White House, Trump tried to phase out DACA. A lawsuit by Republican attorneys general currently seeks to strip DACA recipients of protections, which would place even this relatively small, marginally protected group among Trump’s targets for state aggression. Perhaps there is some small comfort for Dreamers in knowing that they aren’t alone. Trump’s list of targets grows longer each day.

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