New assault on migrants

Trump’s latest moves emphasise once again the need for the left to get its act together, writes Peter Moody

Trump wants a border wall

To a significant degree, media cycles in the US appear to be dominated by the general theme of ‘What did Donald Trump try to do this week?’ Whether it is a more or less inane Tweet-storm or an attempt to steer a policy proposal around the rocky shores of Congress, actual advancements on his agenda in a formal political sense seem few and far between, even taking into account the prevailing wisdom of increasing legislative deadlock.

From this perspective, it is unsurprising that one of the big recent achievements of the administration was the ending of the Deffered Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, which could be done purely through rescinding the executive order that brought it into being in the first place, thus not having to deal with Congress at all.

Nevertheless, the elimination of DACA will throw the futures of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants into doubt. As constituted, DACA bestowed upon its enrolees a form of legal status, providing them an ability to work outside of the more informal or ‘under the table’ areas of the economy that undocumented workers are typically consigned to. This status was never going to be simply permanent - a DACA applicant’s status had to be renewed every two years and said renewal was dependant on the “good behaviour” of that applicant - but it still provided a modicum of stability not normally afforded to the undocumented.

Now, the programme will be phased out in such a way that renewals will not be accepted for anyone whose status expires after the beginning of March of next year, and even those who can renew for another two years must do so by October 5. And, while the Trump administration has said that the former DACA recipients will not be considered priorities for deportation, the inconsistent track record of the president regarding the programme in general leaves one to be sceptical of that statement’s sincerity.

In fact, despite the high profile of the DACA programme and the ‘model’ status of its recipients likely making attempted deportations very controversial, as evidenced by the detention of two of them in separate incidents earlier this year, it is possible that the nature of DACA itself may make its soon to be former recipients much easier targets for deportation, thus throwing a bone to the hard-line anti-immigrant sections of Trump’s supporters. Applying to the programme in the first place meant revealing a person’s immigration status to the state, thus meaning there are now databases of information on this group of the undocumented.

If the Trump administration was able to access that information and deliver it to immigration enforcement authorities, it would give them the ability to detain and start the deportation of potentially hundreds of thousands of people, quite possibly including the families of DACA recipients. While such deportation proceedings would ultimately be a significant undertaking of time and effort, it would provide the impression that the administration is doing something about illegal immigration, thus fulfilling at least an aspect of Trump’s programme and shoring up some of his support.

Unless, of course, if the meetings that Trump has had with top Democrats is to be believed as the start of some process that would save at least some of the provisions of the programme. The possibility of saving DACA in part or in whole had been held out - Trump’s follow-up statement to the announcement which rescinded it specifically called on Congress to take up immigration reform, and the manner in which DACA is being wound down does give a window for Congress to pass something that could potentially keep its provisions in place. But the combination of appearing to work with Democrats in order to keep any parts of the programme, with an apparent suggestion from the same meeting that the border wall that is so eagerly desired by sections of the nationalist right may not be included with said deal, could easily do more to alienate the people that ending DACA would ostensibly be appealing to.

Conservative talk radio has been fielding caller after caller in recent days expressing frustration or dismay with Trump’s meetings with Democratic politicians and, while the common refrain of interpreting this frustration through the lens of the midterms has been a tired one since Trump’s first day in office, no doubt a number of Republican members of Congress are looking to their next re-election campaign with concern over having to explain any deal that their president comes up with behind their backs.

Stuck in the middle of this are the DACA recipients themselves. If DACA was codified wholesale into law rather than in its original state as an executive order, this would be one of the better possible outcomes: as mentioned before, executive orders are more easily undone than legislation. Furthermore, the question of constitutionality was going to be hanging over the head of the programme unless and until it was formally brought before the Supreme Court. And, as the attorneys general of several states had plans to file suit over the constitutionality of DACA, this would have potentially resulted in some finality, whether for or against. As it stands, however, the issue can continue to be live for debate and negotiation, in order for the Trump administration - not to mention Trump, the person - to achieve a policy that is probably wanted with increasing desperation. The DACA recipients, on the other hand, will be stuck in legal and social limbo: arguably not in as much immediate risk as millions of other undocumented immigrants in the US, but nevertheless with an increasingly large target on their backs.

So far, the left has been positively involved with both formal and practical solidarity with these and other immigrants, and this will hopefully continue, as immigrant communities come under ever-increasing pressure - whether from the state or from reactionary groups. But, the current tendency of the administration - and the government generally - to move from one statement or policy objective to another erratically and with frequency can easily help exacerbate the tendency of the left to also jump to rallying against whatever is making the most news this week.

Already, plans by the Senate to re-attempt a repeal of the Affordable Care Act is starting to dominate headlines, and if that succeeds in capturing people’s attention as the Bad Thing Which Must Be Opposed Immediately, immigrant communities could be left bereft of valuable support in their self-defence. While the still-scattered nature of the American left makes this as much of a practical problem as one of politics or temperament, it still points to the need for a left that can carry on sustained activity - both for its own defence and that of all oppressed people - but also to rebuild itself and its base to be able to pose the question of something radically better.

As the slogan goes, an injury to one is an injury to all.