Donald Trump has once again laid out his policy through Twitter, warning that if Democrats failed to agree to fund a border wall and stricter legal immigration criteria, around 800,000 undocumented immigrant young people could face deportation.
The tweet, which migrant justice advocates panned as reducing the young people to a bargaining chip in advancing his white nativist agenda, comes as bipartisan talks are scheduled to begin at the White House next week which will determine the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
"The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc," Trump said in a Twitter post on Friday. “We must protect our Country at all cost!”
Since it was authorized in 2012 by President Barack Obama amid protests and demands by undocumented immigrant youth and social movements, the DACA program – which allowed holders of the status legally find employment, open bank accounts and live free of the fear of deportation – has been a major target for Trump's white nationalist and immigrant-scapegoating base. During his election campaign, he promised to deport DACA beneficiaries. Upon assuming office, however, the former host of “The Apprentice” said that “the dreamers are terrific” and that they have “nothing to worry about,” confusing his supporters and opponents alike.
The confusion ended in September when longtime DACA opponent and anti-immigrant nativist Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration ended the program. Its final termination will be effective in March – a narrow window for a sharply divided Congress to devise a long-term solution for the hundreds of thousands young adults and youth who entered the country without authorization during their childhood.
Democrats, some Republicans and a number of large companies have pushed for DACA protections to continue. Trump and other Republicans have said that will not happen without Congress approving broader immigration policy changes and a much tougher border security regime.
In October, the White House offered a package of so-called “principles” it would abide by when negotiating the renewal of DACA. The package included demands for a southern border wall, stricter immigration enforcement and a request for funds to hire 370 more immigration judges, 1,000 attorneys for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, 300 federal prosecutors and 10,000 additional ICE agents to enforce immigration laws.
The administration also called for tighter standards for those seeking U.S. asylum, denial of federal grants to "sanctuary cities" that restrict the facilitation of ICE enforcement and removal operations, and a requirement that employers use an electronic verification system known as "E-Verify" to keep the undocumented from securing jobs.
Advocacy groups denounced the package as a “wishlist” of demands by the hard-right nativist lobby that would lead to the roundup and deportation of DACA holders' parents.
Many also saw the announcement as a move by far-right officials like Sessions and senior adviser Steven Miller to deliberately sabotage any potential deal with Democrats who don't support the expansion of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Far-right news outlet Breitbart reported on Thursday that House Republicans informed them that GOP leadership, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, would insist on similar principles in negotiations and would, it asserted, “take those numbers of DACA recipients who would be granted amnesty legislatively out of the total of allowed legal immigrants per year — offsetting the damage that they do to the U.S. economy.”
Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent critic of the president, said he would work with Trump to protect DACA beneficiaries, who are frequently referred to as "Dreamers" in reference to their ability to qualify for benefits under the failed DREAM Act proposal from 2001. The controversial bipartisan bill would have allowed undocumented youth to earn their citizenship through college attendance or service in the United States Armed Forces, but it failed amid opposition from immigrant advocacy groups and right-wing nativists alike.
Some youth, politicians and groups aligned with the Democrats have revived the idea of a DREAM Act in a “clean” form which isn't accompanied by draconian enforcement measures.
"We can fix DACA in a way that beefs up border security, stops chain migration for the DREAMers, and addresses the unfairness of the diversity lottery. If POTUS (Trump) wants to protect these kids, we want to help him keep that promise," Flake wrote on Twitter.
Advocates for undocumented communities remain skeptical about the Democrats' ability to retain any backbone in negotiations, noting that the party claiming to represent their interests is often dutifully willing to play by the rules of a Republican Party which easily shifts the goal posts far to the right.
"It's now understood that the only way that the DREAM Act, or something close to it, is going to pass is if it's coupled with some sort of border security measure," Frank Sharry, founder of America's Voice, told VICE. "The question is whether the Republicans are going to demand so much more that it blows up the possibility of relief for Dreamers."
Regardless of the beltway talks surrounding the fate of DACA beneficiaries, grassroots anti-immigrant forces and migrant justice social movements alike are mobilizing their respective bases in preparation for the fight ahead.