"How do you tell a family that's been here for 25 years to get out?”
That's how Donald Trump defended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, aka DACA, in 2011. "This isn't conservative; this is compassion," he said on Fox News, slamming opposition to the initiative, which provides work permits and temporary protection from deportation to 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Today, the president changed his tune, announcing an end to DACA. The repeal's enforcement will be delayed for six months, leaving it to Congress to come up with a long-term legislative fix before then—not their proven strong suit.
What does that mean for the 800,000 young immigrants who benefit from DACA? Having volunteered their personal information in order to qualify for the program, they now face uncertainty. DACA, which Obama created by executive order in 2012, does not protect entire families but rather only the children of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors. Of these "Dreamers," none have significant criminal records, all have undergone extensive background checks, and 91% are employed.
"You have people in this country for 20 years. They've done a great job. They've done wonderfully. They've gone to school. They've gotten good marks. They're productive. Now we're supposed to send them out of the country? I don't believe in that," Trump can be heard saying in a second recently unearthed video. That opinion is shared by many Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike. On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) urged Trump not to move forward with the repeal. As did New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, threatening to take legal action. "New York will sue to stop that order from being rescinded. We won't stand for it," Cuomo said on Monday.
"Dreamers are Americans in every way," added New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a statement on Tuesday. "They played by the rules. They pay their taxes. And they've earned the right to stay in the only home they have ever known."
The decision to scrap DACA comes on the heels of an eerily similar political bait and switch: Trump’s reinstatement of the ban on trans military members, which was lifted under the Obama administration. In 2016, trans soldiers who had been keeping quiet about their identities in order to serve were encouraged to come out; those who did now face expulsion.
Rolling back DACA presents a different threat but the same bad shuffle. Dreamers volunteered their personal information—handing the government the very tools it would need to deport them—in exchange for the promise of deferred action. Without the protection of DACA, their applications are essentially admissions of guilt.
"I feel betrayed," Lorena Jofrey, a DACA beneficiary from Miami recently told Vox. “We provided them with all our information. Now, if they take [DACA] away, I am scared to death that they are going to use that against us. They know exactly where we work and where we live.”
Every administration change comes with policy changes—that’s to be expected. But it’s irresponsible and dangerous to establish a political framework in which promises only last as long as the people who make them. Democracy is a contract that’s predicated on trust. Stability means being able to trust that tomorrow’s policies and moral code will somewhat resemble today’s.
Right now, that trust is seriously eroding.