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Opinion Will Trump end protections for the ‘dreamers’? A new study shows how foolish this would be.

(Craig Ruttle/Associated Press)

Since becoming president, Donald Trump has done any number of stupid and morally repulsive things. But he may be getting ready to top them all, by taking nearly 800,000 “dreamers” — immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children and who in the time since have done all the right things to become productive Americans — and removing protections against their deportation back to countries that in most cases they barely know.

Today, the Center for American Progress released a new survey of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) that illustrates in even sharper terms just how terrible the impact of this could be in moral and policy terms.

In 2012, President Barack Obama created DACA, which allowed these young people to get temporary status that would allow them to work and pursue their educations legally. For a number of reasons — a new, looming legal challenge to the program; the fact that his administration is filled with immigration opponents such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions; Trump’s own anti-immigrant sentiments; his desire to undo everything that Obama did — Trump may now cancel the program, which would threaten them with deportation and cause them to lose their work permits.

This is exactly what he pledged to do during the presidential campaign when he was whipping up crowds into frenzies of anti-immigrant hatred. But as president, Trump has made it sound like he doesn’t want to follow through. “We are gonna deal with DACA with heart,” he said in February, though his remarks were filled with ambivalence and the usual fantasizing about immigrant criminals. “To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids — in many cases, not in all cases,” he said. “In some of the cases, they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug members, too.” But in April, he also said that dreamers should “rest easy” because he was only interested in deporting criminals.

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Regardless, his administration is now considering whether to cancel the program, leaving these young people susceptible to deportation. In part, this is because a coalition of 10 Republican states has threatened to file a lawsuit against the program if the administration doesn’t begin dismantling it by Sept. 5, and the administration has to decide whether to defend the program in court. If it doesn’t — and it’s hard to imagine it would, given the attorney general’s vehement opposition to it — the lawsuit would probably succeed, DACA would be dead, and those roughly 800,000 young people’s lives could be upended and in many cases destroyed.

If that happens, the Republican Congress could then come under pressure to pass legislation that protects the dreamers via some form of legalization. Trump has floated the idea of using the fate of the dreamers as a bargaining chip to try to get Democrats to agree to fund his border wall. It’s hard to say what would happen in this scenario, but the bottom line is that whether they remain protected in some way is largely up to Trump.

In this context, the new survey of DACA recipients — a joint creation of the Center for American Progress, political scientist Tom Wong, United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center — is valuable, because it underscores that there is a very strong case for protecting them in one way or another.

It’s likely that a lot of Americans, particularly Trump’s supporters, hear about these immigrants and think they must be day laborers bringing down wages for native-born citizens, or even lazily sucking off public assistance. But that has never been true — in order to qualify for DACA in the first place, you had to either be in school, have graduated high school or gotten a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces, and have not committed any felony or serious misdemeanor.

The findings, which are based on responses from more than 3,000 DACA recipients in 46 states, give a sense of who these people are and what they’re contributing — and suggest that the DACA program protecting them has had a positive effect on the economy as well:

  • 97 percent of the respondents said they are employed or in school
  • 69 percent said that after receiving DACA status they were able to move to a job with better pay; their average hourly wage went from $10.29 an hour before DACA to $17.46 an hour after
  • 5 percent have started their own businesses, a figure that rises to 8 percent among those 25 and over, which is more than two and a half times the rate for the population as a whole
  • 65 percent reported being able to buy their first car, and 16 percent were able to buy their first home (the figure for those over 25 was 24 percent)
  • 45 percent are currently in school, and among those, 72 percent are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher

In another study, CAP estimated that ending DACA could take $460 billion out of the nation’s economy over the next 10 years. But the largest cost is the human one.

“For us, this survey tells the story of immigrant youth like my brother who have gotten work, gone to school, supported their families and built their lives over the last five years,” says Cristina Jimenez, executive director of United We Dream, which partnered in producing this survey. “Keeping DACA should be a no-brainer, but instead white supremacists in the White House and in a few state capitals are unnecessarily putting all this progress at risk.”

There’s also no question that DACA is hugely popular among the public, in large part because even people with misgivings about immigration make a judgment of the moral worthiness of different kinds of immigrants. In this case we’re talking about young people who were brought here by their parents and have done everything right — finished school, pursued higher education, served in the armed forces, held down good jobs. Only the most bitter and cruel nationalists want to kick them out.

However, that description happens to apply to some very powerful people in the administration, including the attorney general. The dreamers’ fate will be largely determined by whether that description applies to the president himself. Let’s just say he hasn’t given us a lot of reason to have faith that he’ll do the right thing.