President Donald Trump’s decision to deport up to 800,000 young immigrants if Congress doesn’t find a solution to their status in the U.S. within six months may go down in history as one of the cruelest actions by any U.S. president - along the lines of the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps in World War II.
Trump’s decision not to pardon the “Dreamers” - young immigrants who were brought to the country as infants by their undocumented parents - is morally repugnant on many fronts.
It would deport hundreds of thousands of youths who had no say in their parents’ decision to move to the United States, and who, for all practical purposes, are Americans. Ninety-seven percent of them are in school or working and some of them - like South Korean-born Jin Park - are studying molecular biology at Harvard.
Tomas Pindola, a 26-year-old Argentine-born “Dreamer” who was brought to this country at age 10, is a professor of chemistry at Miami’s MAST Academy, one of the most prestigious high schools in the city. While his life would not be in danger if deported, others who were born in Honduras, Venezuela or other countries with the highest murder rates in the world could “face death,” he told the Agence France-Presse news service.
At least one “Dreamer,” 31-year-old Alonso Guillen, died in Houston last week while trying to rescue victims from Hurricane Harvey. Guillen, who was born in Mexico, borrowed a boat and drove more than 100 miles from Lufkin, Texas, to Houston to help evacuate hurricane victims, the Houston Chronicle reported.
His boat crashed into a bridge while he and two friends were trying to rescue people trapped in an apartment building. Guillen’s body was found floating in the water on Sunday.
Many of the “Dreamers” are more American than Trump. They pay taxes (we still don’t know to what extent Trump does). They serve in the Army (which Trump has never done). They haven’t attacked the dignity of other people because of their race or nationality (as Trump did when he described most Mexican undocumented immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists,” or when he said U.S.-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel was not suited to rule in a fraud case against Trump University because he is “Mexican.”)
Making all of this more nauseating was the fact that Trump’s decision came on the heels of his refusal for two days to condemn violent neo-Nazi and white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., and his most recent decision to pardon Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The sheriff was convicted of criminal contempt for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.
Trump and his Fox News supporters argue that America is a country of laws, and that the “Dreamers” should thus be deported. Yet Trump pardoned Arpaio, a convicted criminal, but did not pardon 800,000 law-abiding youths who were trying to live the American dream.
But one of the most dangerous side effects of Trump’s decision on the “Dreamers” is that it will send a tacit message that it’s not safe to trust the U.S. government. These young people trusted the U.S. government when they enrolled in DACA - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals - and gave their names and addresses, under the promise that “the information provided in this request is protected from disclosure to” immigration and border officials.
Will the Trump administration now use these names and addresses to pick up these kids at their homes and deport them? What kind of precedent does that set for future government promises?
If the White House were to ask next that the estimated 11 million undocumented residents step forward to report terrorism threats to police under the promise that no actions would be taken against them, could anybody blame them for not doing it?
We are witnessing an American tragedy, right in front of our eyes. We can only hope that Congress acts to undo one of the darkest chapters of recent American history.
Andres Oppenheimer is a columnist for the Miami Herald.