The Dreamers and the Rohingya

Yes, of course there are important differences between what President Trump has decided to do–remove the “deferred action” status accorded by President Obama to 800,000 people, most of whom have never lived anyplace but the US–and Myanmar’s efforts to expel Rohingya who have lived there for generations. Trump isn’t burning the Dreamers’ houses to the ground or forcibly expelling them from the US (at least not yet). But they will become subject to deportation–even though they may have lived their entire conscious lives in the US–and the basic motive is similar: to rid the country of people who don’t fit an ethnic definition of citizenship.

The Rohingya are mostly Muslims (some are Hindu) in a majority-Buddhist country, one that rejects their claim to citizenship despite generations of living in Myanmar. The Dreamers are mostly Latinos (78% Mexican) brought as children to the US illegally by their parents. Apart from the President (as candidate) challenging a judge’s bona fides because his parents were Mexican, there isn’t much Trump and Attorney General Sessions can do about the millions of Latino citizens already in the US, so they are targeting whom they can. Anyone who thinks this is not ethnically motivated hasn’t spent any time listening to Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump, both of whom have openly advocated discriminatory immigration policies.

President Trump ducked announcing the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and left it to Jeff Sessions, who refused to take questions. No new DACA applications will be accepted and the program will end March 5, 2018. There is of course the possibility Congress will pass corrective legislation, but the main reason President Obama instituted DACA by executive order was its failure to do so. With the legislative agenda bursting, it is not clear that immigration policy can get to the top of the priority list.

Deportation of Dreamers will be relatively easy. In exchange for deferred action, they registered with the US government, which therefore knows where they live and how to get in touch with them. For the Dreamers, many of whom don’t even speak Spanish (or another language native to their parents’ place of origin), deportation would be a wrenching experience: deprived of the country they grew up in, placed in a cultural and linguistic context with which they are unfamiliar, and separated permanently from their lifetime and career ambitions. Cruel is not too strong a word.

Of course all this will be challenged in court. There the Dreamers are a lot better off than the Rohingya, who haven’t got that option. But the odds of winning in court in the absence of a legislative fix are not good. Courts have a way of not wanting to validate illegal acts, even indirectly. We can hope they will see deportation as going to far, but that doesn’t seem likely. I hope I’m wrong about that.

President Trump has assured the Dreamers repeatedly that they have nothing to fear. But of course he has promised his core supporters that he would get rid of both DACA and large numbers of Latinos. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind which commitment he is keeping.

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