Trump is holding DREAMers hostage for his border wall with Mexico

Uncertain future.
Uncertain future.
Image: Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein
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The White House’s decision today to rescind the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program (DACA) puts the future of some 800,000 people who were brought to the US illegally as children in jeopardy.

These so-called “Dreamers,” named for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) act that was introduced in the Senate in 2001 and has been stuck ever since, are mostly in their 20s, live in every state in the country, and were originally born in dozens of countries. Many moved so long ago they only remember the US as their home, but they will no longer be allowed to work legally in the country and could be forced to leave.

Their future hinges on whether Congress can get immigration reform legislation passed in coming months that would protect them, and then whether president Donald Trump will sign any bill Congress passes. The White House is looking for “overall immigration reform that is responsible and lawful,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said today, which includes controlling the border, improving vetting and immigration security.

Pressed about whether the DREAMers were being used to get funding for the president’s controversial border wall with Mexico, the press secretary appeared to confirm that was the case. “It sounds like the president is saying ‘If we’re going to allow the DREAMers to stay in the country we want a wall.’ Is that accurate?” one journalist asked. Sanders answered: “I don’t think the president has been shy about the fact that he wants a wall, and thinks it is an important part of a responsible immigration package.”

Holding DREAMers hostage to get the wall funded was part of the White House’s plan all along, Republican strategists told Quartz last week. Before Hurricane Harvey hit, Trump had threatened to “shut down the government” unless next year’s spending bill included funds for the wall—and the White House was planning then to use DREAMers and a promise to fix, rather than repeal, Obamacare as a way to get the Democrats it needs onto the bill.

Hurricane Harvey has made shutting down the government politically impossible, as the federal government is heavily involved in the rebuilding and repair efforts after the storm left tens of thousands homeless. But the White House is apparently still determined to get funding for the wall, which could cost as much as $22 billion and take three years to build. “Donald Trump and the administration have made it clear that they see DREAMers and DACA as bargaining chips,” says Anil Kalhan, professor of law at Drexel University. They’re being used “as a pawn to get some other anti-immigrant measures passed.”

The majority of Americans don’t back Trump on the wall, or his position on DREAMers. Nearly three-quarters of Americans polled last year said they thought it was important that the government allow those who came to the US illegally as children to remain here. Only 39% said they thought it was important to build the wall.

Annalisa Merelli contributed reporting.