To the Editor,
The Trump administration just released its immigration priorities wish list — a combination of ramped-up border and interior enforcement, expanded criminal penalties to once civil violations, and severely restricted future immigration. Particularly insidious is the intent to condition legal status for DREAMers on Congress approving these restrictions. DREAMers — named for the American Dream and prospective beneficiaries of the bipartisan Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — are the young people brought to the United States by their parents and made newly vulnerable by President Trump’s decision to rescind President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The White House’s decision to threaten DREAMers reminds me of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid described by an immigrant mother at a church-organized meeting in Trenton over a decade ago. Responding to ICE officers knocking on their door, the family hid in the basement. Soon after, they heard their front door open and footsteps walk across the first floor. Eventually, the basement door opened, the light turned on, and the officers descended, guns pointed. The officers gathered the family in the basement, but didn’t see their target. The officers then showed a picture of a man to the immigrant mother's child and asked if he knew the man. The boy acknowledged that the man pictured was his father. With the family still under threat, the officers instructed the boy to show them where his father hid.
Conditioning legal status for DREAMers on approving the administration’s anti-immigrant wish list seems akin to ICE coercing the son to betray his father — but expanded to a national scale. DREAMers represent approximately six percent of the undocumented immigrant population in the United States. They have grown up here as peers of their U.S.-born classmates and friends. The United States is their home.
The Trump administration’s initiatives divide communities by design. Under the pretext of public safety, the initiatives seek to create a wedge between local police and immigrants in their community. Never mind that police are sworn to protect everyone, deputizing local police as immigration enforcers discourages immigrants from reporting crimes as victims and witnesses, making everyone less safe. What’s more, the administration has also issued attacks on sanctuary cities, punishing community compassion by undermining municipal public safety programs.
On the heels of turning police on immigrants, the administration now seeks enhanced measures to turn employers against immigrants, creating yet another wedge. The hope is to institute enough pressure points that immigrants self-deport. Attacking families and communities — the Trump administration’s immigration initiatives are ultimately self-defeating for our country. This shouldn’t be surprising. The government says that it wants to eliminate the incentives for immigrants to come to the United States. By turning out the light of hope and opportunity that draws people to our shores, the administration puts all of us in the shadows.
If DACA proved anything, it’s that immigrants’ dreams can brighten our future, rather than threaten it. Let’s pass a clean DREAM Act and put these ill-conceived, mean-spirited initiatives behind us.
Ryan Stark Lilienthal is an immigration lawyer in Princeton, NJ.