Analysis

Trump’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment of Unsullied Dreamers

Many Americans, especially Jews, are already shell-shocked by the administration’s relentless display of callousness and nativism

Protestors gather outside the Trump Hotel to protest President Donald Trump's plan to repeal DACA in Washington, U.S., September 5, 2017.
Protestors gather outside the Trump Hotel to protest President Donald Trump's plan to repeal DACA in Washington, U.S., September 5, 2017. AARON P. BERNSTEIN/REUTERS

The 800,000 Dreamers, whose lives were violently shaken by Donald Trump on Tuesday, are ideal immigrants. They were brought up and educated in America, they live productive lives, they pay taxes but don’t receive federal benefits, they go to college and volunteer for the U.S. Army and they would like nothing more than to be given American citizenship. You couldn’t design better candidates to become full U.S. citizens if you tried it in a lab.

Which is why Trump’s decision, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to rescind Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is cruel and unusual punishment. It is cruel to suddenly demolish the sense of safety and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of well-meaning, law-abiding potential immigrants who have been placed in this predicament through no fault of their own. And it is unusual for any government to drive away such an unparalleled pool of potential citizens, of the kind it claims to covet most.

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But cruelty is the trademark of Donald Trump and, by extension, of his presidency. He was cruel to the point of sadism during his election campaign, when no insult and no abuse were beyond the pale in his annihilation of his opponents. And he was cruel during the campaign and throughout his still-fledgling presidency in his branding of Mexicans as rapists, of Muslims as potential terrorists and of transgender people as unfit for military service. As before, he is cruel and crueler in his decree against DACA: Cruel in inflicting such injury on so many undeserving people and crueler in his callous indifference to their travails.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with congressional leaders and administration officials in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

Trump’s decision on DACA has sparked howls of bipartisan protest. It even solicited a rare and harsh public rebuke from Obama himself, enacted DACA in 2012 in response to Congress’ inability to reach agreement on comprehensive immigration reform. Trump has cleverly passed the buck to Congress once again, giving it six months to legislate an alternative. But the stranglehold that the reactionary, nativist wing of the GOP holds over most of the party’s lawmakers, which prevented them from agreeing to a solution five years ago, hasn’t changed. In fact, it has actually gotten stronger, now the racist right has a sitting president in its corner as well. With Obama gone, they might even be joined by some so-called “progressive” liberals who think they are standing up for the American worker, as if the American worker is served by such displays of nasty unkindness.

The arguments made by Sessions on Tuesday do not hold water. Dreamers aren’t taking away jobs, their net contribution to the American economy is unassailable and they probably love their country just as much as the so-called patriots that Sessions and Trump consider their base. In fact, if a citizenship test was equally applied to Dreamers and Trump voters, there is no doubt whatsoever who would come out first.

Many Americans, including and perhaps especially Jews, are already shell-shocked and battle-weary. Every day, if not every hour, brings its own nasty surprises. Jews are especially and understandably supportive of immigration and immigrants’ rights. Whenever they think Trump can’t do worse, he goes ahead and confounds them. What they cannot comprehend is what they and America did to deserve this.

As for Israelis, most of them will probably be supportive of Trump, as they have for many other controversial steps he’s taken. Although there is a world of difference in their objective circumstances, the common Israeli attitude towards non-Jewish immigrants is probably just as bad, if not worse, than that of Trump supporters. Benjamin Netanyahu has recently been highlighting his determination to rid the country of illegal African immigrants, because, as in America, it has become a cause celebre of his base. It’s hard to think of a sadder commentary about the state of Israel these days than the fact that it probably supports Trump and his behavior more than any other country in the world.