When you rummage through the immigration debate, you never know what you’ll find.
After eight years of largely ignoring the complaints of undocumented young people who marched in the street, occupied congressional offices, got arrested outside the White House, staged demonstrations at the U.S.-Mexico border and heckled Barack Obama for not tackling immigration reform, the liberal media has finally discovered the Dreamers.
And suddenly, they really care about them. So after enabling a Democratic administration that deported about 3 million immigrants, including undocumented young people brought to the United States as children, the media is now portraying the Trump administration as the Dreamers’ worst nightmare.
These kids live productive lives, according to the narrative, and all they want is to finish their studies, pursue their chosen occupations, and reside in the only country they know. And yet, we are told, Trump could ruin those plans by removing the Dreamers and shipping them back to countries they no longer recognize.
This plot would be easier to pitch had Trump not, up to now, kept in place the protections that the Obama administration eventually gave to more than 750,000 undocumented immigrants under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“They shouldn’t be very worried,” Trump told ABC News in January about the Dreamers. “I do have a big heart.”
More recently, Trump told The Associated Press that the young people could “rest easy.”
This might have been the end of it had Trump not delegated much of the administration’s immigration policy to a pair of Cabinet members who are gung-ho about removing illegal immigrants and securing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly certainly mean business, and both have made clear that – while deporting Dreamers is still not an administration priority – anyone who’s in the United States without legal status is subject to deportation.
That’s true. It’s also helpful. Dreamers shouldn’t be lulled into thinking they’re bullet-proof.
Still, hearing officials express this truth out loud is a bit unsettling. And it gives the media grist for its narrative about coldhearted conservatives who are out to destroy young people’s lives out of callousness and prejudice.
Television anchors grill administration officials about their intentions. Will Dreamers be deported, or not? The officials won’t say. They can’t. Every situation is different.
Look at the case of 23-year-old Juan Manuel Montes, a DACA recipient who was recently deported. According to USA Today, Montes couldn’t produce his identification or proof of his protected status when approached by immigration agents. So, within a few hours, he was in Mexico. Buried in the story is the fact that Montes had four criminal convictions – albeit for minor infractions such as shoplifting and driving without a license.
Meanwhile, immigration advocates have an incentive to stoke fears that Dreamers may be deported. It mobilizes the community and pressures Trump to handle the immigration issue with care.
Good luck. Almost no one in government is careful with this hot-button topic. Rather, the game plan is to treat immigration cynically, and get what you can from it while offering little or nothing in return.
And so, beginning in 2012, while the media and activists were busy poking holes in Mitt Romney’s silly demand that illegal immigrants “self-deport,” Obama convinced three-quarters of a million of them to self-report to the federal government under DACA.
The message to Dreamers was simple and seductive: You want protection? Step right up. Just turn yourself in to your friendly local office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the nice folks there will take you into custody, fingerprint you, open up a file, get your home address so we can find you, and then let you go back into society with a two-year work permit and a promise to leave you alone – at least for the time being.
Now all that personal data is in the hands of the Trump administration. And people are terrified.
Who could have seen this train wreck coming? Just about anyone.
What was the first hint that undocumented young people should have been more careful and not gone anywhere near DACA? It was when they were approached by someone who smiled and said: “Hello. I’m from the government. And I’m here to help you.”
For the Dreamers, this was their cue to run. If they were really as American as they claim to be, they’d have known that.
Ruben Navarrette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.