My, my, politics in the age of Trump can be baffling.
President Donald Trump, a man who loves to bully and threaten, may actually have done a huge favor to one of his favorite scapegoats — undocumented immigrants — by threatening to deport them.
Specifically, he threw out the possibility that 800,000 young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors may have to be deported. That has forced some of his fellow Republicans to muster some courage.
For 16 years, Republicans in Congress have rejected some version of the DREAM Act, which would let undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as kids remain here legally as long as they meet certain requirements. There is no good reason why such legal relief should have been denied these young people, who call themselves “Dreamers” after the legislation. There has been only a bad reason: politics — the politics of divisiveness and prejudice that has been the calling card of the hard-right GOP and of Trump himself.
But as Trump’s public image curdles, more moderate Republicans have found a voice. Listen to Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. It would be “totally unreasonable” to make the Dreamers “go back and live in a country that they didn’t grow up in,” he told reporters. “And we want to have all the talent and capability we can have” in the United States.
In that short comment, Blunt articulated a just and pragmatic view. It would be ludicrous to sever ties with these young people, many of whom are either pursuing college degrees or are serving in our military.
Blunt added that the U.S. should offer a route to full citizenship for the young people, and that perhaps language to that effect should be included in the spending bill that must pass by Dec. 8.
In many conservative circles — and Blunt is a conservative — that’s amnesty talk, and amnesty is anathema.
In September, Trump announced that he would end the five-year-old program begun under President Obama that gave a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation to some of these young adults. Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program by executive order because Congress had stalled for so long.
DACA was not designed to be, nor could it be, a permanent fix. That’s the job of Congress, a point that Republicans rightly point out.
But the outlines and intent behind DACA are unimpeachable. Americans understand the fundamental injustice of expelling people who were raised as Americans, and who came here through no choice of their own, and forcing them to live in a foreign country. Thoughtful conservatives who stymied the DREAM Act and lamented DACA must know they haven’t been on the side of the angels.
So it is ironic that it is the moral reprobate at the head of their party who may push them to do the right thing.
In the meantime, the Dreamers have been their own best advocates.
This week they showed up at Congressional offices, protesting for action. More than a dozen were arrested at the Hart Senate Building. Nothing could be more American than that.
The Dreamers have studied the Constitution and civil rights history alongside their U.S.-born schoolmates. They’ve grown up here, believing in the promise of opportunity our nation holds for all who are willing to work hard, to those who stay within the law. They want to be Americans, and only a legal technicality prevents this dream from being realized.
Republicans have always known this, especially the brave handful who have stalwartly supported legislative relief for the Dreamers, such as Sen. John McCain.
Trump, by contrast, has swung like a weather vane on their status, his attitude changing according to personal whim or political advantage. Like so many other politicians before him, Trump has used them. When he needs to sound benevolent, he’ll cast a kind word or two their way. When he wants to rile his base or distress his liberal opponents, he bundles the Dreamers in with all the rest of the “bad hombres.”
Some observers have speculated that, if pushed, Trump will do that right thing on the Dreamers. Maybe, but if so he will need cover. Alone, a President Trump will not continue the DACA program concocted by his perceived arch-nemesis, Obama.
It’s long been understood that a coalition of uneasy bedfellows would be necessary to resolve the plight of the Dreamers.
It would be rich if the president who used their tenuous legal tie to the U.S. to get elected, in the end, became the force under which their status was finally and permanently resolved.