As a professor of Latina/o studies at the public flagship university in Texas — which is second only to California in the number of DACA recipients — I have seen firsthand both the benefits of DACA and the brutality of hard-line immigration policy. I know personally that Trump cannot have it both ways. He cannot feign concern for DACA recipients while sowing terror in their communities and targeting their parents for deportation.
The value of DACA is visible to me every time I step into a classroom. Because of DACA, my students can prepare for professional careers. They can participate in work-study programs. Most important, because of DACA, they can see their own contributions to the only country they have ever called home. But the limited reach of DACA still prevents my students from reaching their full potential.
I’ve had students fall asleep repeatedly in class while working extra hours to pay an immigration lawyer so their parents won’t get deported. I’ve had students withdraw entirely from school because the stress and financial burden of coming from mixed-status families is too overwhelming. These students are among the best and brightest in Texas, in most cases graduating in the top 7 percent of their high school classes. When their success is impeded by concerns that could be eliminated by humane immigration reform, the whole country suffers the loss of their talents and intelligence.
Trump wants us to believe he cares about DACA recipients. “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me,” he said in a recent news conference. “It’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids. In many cases, not in all cases. And some of the cases, having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers, too.”
In fact, the background checks on DACA applicants are rigorous. No one with a criminal conviction or otherwise deemed a threat to public safety is given DACA status, and gang affiliation alone can result in a denial. Claiming compassion and misrepresenting DACA in the same breath, Trump exposed his true goal: to undermine public compassion for all undocumented immigrants and justify draconian policy that is separating families, plunging promising students into poverty, and producing fear in immigrant communities.
More than a week before Trump announced his new immigration priorities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had already initiated deportation proceedings against Daniel Ramírez Medina, the first known DACA recipient to be taken into ICE custody since Trump took office. Ramírez’s detention occurred during a week of widespread ICE activity around the country, resulting in more than 600 arrests.
Ramírez’s case provides chilling insight into how Trump’s immigration policy will be put into practice. Whereas the Obama administration prioritized the deportation of immigrants with criminal convictions, Trump seeks to label immigrants as criminals in order to manipulate public sentiment in favor of accelerated action. This despite the fact that research shows immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.
ICE officials have told the press that Ramírez confessed gang affiliation, a claim his lawyers vociferously deny. And while we await the outcome for Ramírez, 750,000 DACA recipients around the country are watching in fear. They are afraid not just for themselves, but for their parents, siblings, friends and relatives.
Donald Trump has the power not just to keep the protections of DACA but also to ensure that the families and loved ones of DACA recipients are safe. He has the power to halt deportation proceedings against Ramírez and restore his DACA status until the ICE allegations against him are confirmed or disproven. If he doesn’t take these actions, the “heart” he claims to possess will be exposed as yet another of his administration’s rapidly mounting list of lies.
Minich is assistant professor of English and Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.