What is DACA? A look at immigrant program Trump is ending

In a Sunday Sept. 3, 2017 photo, Michele Kessler holds a sign of support at a Defered Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA rally on Public Square in Wilkes Barre Pa. President Donald Trump on Tuesday began dismantling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, the government program protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children.(Dave Scherbenco/The Citizens' Voice via AP)

Dave Scherbenco

It could not be more fitting that only 24 hours after scrapping protections for 800,000 young immigrants brought here illegally as children President Donald Trump was set to deliver a big speech extolling the need to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations. The juxtaposition captures the massive lie at the very heart of Trumpism as perfectly as anyone could ask for.

Two of Trump's new tweets neatly bracket this big lie. In one tweet, Trump announced he will give a speech Wednesday in North Dakota calling for "tax reform and tax cuts," arguing that "we are the highest taxed nation in the world." This is itself a repeatedly debunked falsehood that Trump employs to push an agenda in tune with the trickle-down GOP economic orthodoxy he used as a foil during a campaign in which he portrayed himself as an economic populist.

In the other tweet, Trump asserted that Congress has six months to act to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals "dreamers" via legislation and hinted that if Congress fails, he might renew the executive protections he just rescinded. But Trump has not told us what legislation along these lines he'd be willing to sign. There's a reason for all this vagueness: Trump cannot come out squarely for protecting the dreamers, because that would reveal another side of his alleged economic populism - the demagoguing about immigrants threatening U.S. workers - to be hollow.

Two Republican senators have aptly called out Trump on this point. The Post reports that Trump's call for Congress to protect the dreamers has thrown Republicans into "chaos," partly because nobody knows what Trump wants from such legislation. Lindsey Graham, S.C., urges Trump to show "where your heart's at" on the dreamers. Marco Rubio, Fla., adds that Trump "needs to show what he's willing to support."

Trump needs to decide what he really wants for the dreamers. He is widely being described as "conflicted" on their fate: We are told that he empathizes with their plight - he says he has "great heart" for them - but that he felt pressure to end DACA because the immigration hard-liners insisted he must deliver for his base.

But let's be clear on what this conflict is really about. Trump isn't wrestling with a dilemma made difficult by two valid competing moral imperatives. He's torn between (on one side) the reality of what it actually means to scrap protections for hundreds of thousands of people who know no other country, are thoroughly American and just want to contribute positively to American life; and (on the other) the need to continue propping up his campaign lies about how deporting these people will boost American workers. The conflict is between the inescapably awful truth about the real-life consequences of ending DACA and the imagined need to continue making empty gestures to his core supporters.

Consider that in announcing an end to DACA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was tasked with delivering the message Trump would not, claimed that the presence of these "illegal aliens," as he described the dreamers, "denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans." As The New York Times' Paul Krugman explains, the idea that the dreamers constitute an economic threat is nonsense on multiple levels. But reality aside, if Trump believes this, then how can he be calling for legislation that would make their presence in this country - and their alleged theft of U.S. jobs - permanent?

Thus, Trump cannot flatly say he will sign legislation protecting dreamers without revealing that whole story line to be a sham. Instead, Trump will insist that any solution for the dreamers come packaged with either tighter immigration restrictions or spending on his U.S.-Mexico wall or on other border security measures to prop up the fiction that he is fighting for U.S. workers by protecting them from the swarthy invaders who have been scapegoated for the workers' complex, multicausal economic woes. And that may end up meaning that no solution for the dreamers is reached, leading to untold numbers of them being deported or driven underground.

Trump campaigned on an agenda of economic populism that included not just the promise of an immigration crackdown, but also massive infrastructure spending, revamped trade deals, a protected safety net and a confrontation of elites while getting the wealthy to pay more. The first two addendums are nowhere in sight, and Trump sold out the third with his failed health plan. But the anti-immigrant hostility is shaping policy in a major way: Joe Arpaio has been pardoned, and now the dreamers may join the ranks of those getting caught up in Trump's mass-deportation dragnet. It is perfect that Trump will cap this whole episode with a speech calling for tax cuts that will inevitably lavish their largest benefits on the rich.

Greg Sargent is a Washington Post columnist.

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