The Fight Over DACA Has Always Been About Race
Time, on its own, doesn’t assuage racism. White power concedes nothing without a vigorous fight, and the fantasy that racism is a problem that can just be waited out is an absolute delusion. That’s part of America’s problem: it continually asks black and brown people to sit tight, stand down, never gripe or protest, and naively hope that a country that has repeatedly betrayed and abused them will miraculously do the right thing. That’s what’s happening with DACA right now, and the frustration of watching this familiar scene play out is maddening.
The DACA fight, including the 60-hour recent government shutdown, has been about racism from day one. Donald Trump’s well-documented white supremacist bonafides dating back to his discriminatory real estate practices in the 1970s are legion, and the evidence has come fast and furious over the last two years. There was the launch of his presidential bid with a speech that cast all Mexicans as criminals, the judge he insulted based solely on his Mexican heritage, his promise to his supporters to enact policies specifically designed to hurt people of color, and his sympathizing with the “very fine [group of] people” who murdered an anti-racism protester. By the time word leaked that Trump had moaned about immigrants from “shithole countries,” the statement only confirmed what was obvious. Trump believes DACA allows shithole-caliber black and brown people to live in this country at a moment he is desperately trying to Make America Aryan Again, apparently with a huge influx of Norwegians.
Trump isn’t alone in this effort, he’s backed by a White House full of racist xenophobes. Senior Trump staffer Stephen Miller has a record of anti-immigrant racism that dates back to junior high school, when he reportedly unfriended a schoolmate for being Latino, and his undergrad days at Duke University, where he railed against “multiculturalism” and hung out with notoriously punchable Nazi Richard Spencer. The first hint that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly might be a racist was his willingness work for Trump. Since taking the job, he has solidified his stance by singing Robert E. Lee’s praises, defending monuments to the Confederacy, and promoting the idea that slavery wasn’t such a bad institution if you just get into the mindset of white slaveowners (and John Kelly, apparently). He has also been relentless in advancing this administration’s xenophobic goals. “In just six months, Kelly turned [the Department of Homeland Security] into a deportation machine” notes the the Nation’s Julianne Hing, “translat[ing] much of Trump’s brazen anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric into actual policy.”
Jemele Hill rightfully said that “Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists,” and it’s important to note that circle extends to the wider GOP. The Republican political party, with far greater transparency than in any other modern period, is a white supremacist safe space. There are too many open racists to highlight them all: from Tom Cotton, who blocked a black woman’s ambassadorship until she died of cancer to “inflict special pain” on Obama; to Steve King, who once claimed that for every immigrant “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that—they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” Even those who don’t shout their racism swaddle it well-worn dog whistles such as “Chicago,” “law and order” and, per Paul Ryan, allusions to “inner city…culture problems.” It’s impossible to consider the rest, who are all complicit in aiding Trumpism, anything other than extremist.
That extremism was highly visible during this shutdown, as the president and GOP jointly exploited white fears and resentments around immigration, cynically portraying Dreamers’ very existence as a creeping problem and potential criminal threat. Department of Justice head Jeff Sessions, an O.G. among racists, bothered to put together a report of intentionally misleading information to jerry-rig a connection between immigration and terrorism. The Trump reelection campaign also created an ad that attempted to link Dreamers with murder and lawlessness, and suggested Democrats’ efforts to protect them made the party potential accessories to murder. Fox News, essentially the media arm of this administration, helped out by prominently featuring an article about the MS-13 gang as the shutdown entered its third day. “MS-13 wants to send ‘younger, more violent offenders’ to the US, officials say,” the headline read, ticking off a bunch of boxes intended to bring Dreamers to mind.
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post noticed a pattern:
Trump and Republicans have pivoted to falsifying the real cause of the shutdown by bashing Democrats for closing down the government to protect ‘illegal immigrants.’ This is a dramatic swing toward portraying dreamers as nothing more than lawbreakers — toward lumping in the dreamers with the broader undocumented population, which Trump has tarred with all kinds of lies about immigrants committing crime, harming low-skilled U.S. workers and perpetrating terrorism. Is this the real GOP view? As Brian Beutler points out, the legislative history here does betray sustained GOP treatment of the Dreamers in precisely these terms. Or, as David Bier puts it, House Republicans cannot ‘accept Dreamers as Americans’ and view them only as ‘criminals on parole.’
Republicans’ insistence on labeling human beings “illegal” is obviously dehumanizing: people aren’t illegal, actions are. But beyond the gross language, there’s a sleight of hand at work. The Trump administration announced plans to end DACA in September, affecting the status of more than 800,000 Dreamers and is now attempting to weaponize that status against those same young immigrants. The same is true of 200,000 Salvadorans and 60,000 Haitians whose Temporary Protected Status the Trump administration is ending. (There’s been no discussion of the 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants currently living in this country, and we can all guess why.) Numerous Republicans have claimed for months that they hoped to protect Dreamers from deportation, but instead used them as a bargaining chip and fear-stoking tool when given the opportunity. The willingness to throw out every stereotype and see what sticks, to risk a tally of $1.5 billion a day in shutdown costs, points to just how intense the GOP’s anti-DACA and overall anti-immigrant campaign is. Trump’s dumb wall, calls to end the diversity visa lottery, vast increase in deportations and plans to rip immigrant families apart—these are the policies of an administration trying to roll back time. Specifically to before 1965, when the Immigration and Nationality Act overturned some of America’s racist immigration prohibitions.
As all this political theater and racist politicking plays out, Dreamers and other immigrants remain in anxiety-inducing limbo. The Senate Democrats who agreed to the deal that ended the shutdown and funds the government through early February must recognize what they’re up against. While Chuck Schumer et al managed to get a six-year CHIP extension, they gained no ground on behalf of Dreamers, even after giving in on billions in funding for that ridiculous border wall. McConnell has promised to take up the issue again, but he is not, by a stretch, a politician known for his superior honesty. Too, there’s pretty much no reason to believe the GOP will get sufficiently less bigoted in the next 16 days to produce a decent immigration bill. That basically guarantees we’ll be facing another shutdown in roughly two weeks. The same racism will be the unspoken subtext, but the fight is likely to be longer and more vicious. That is, if Democrats manage to keep their spines in working order.
In other words, hope for the best and protest to stop the worst.