The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion President Trump said he’d ‘deal with DACA with heart.’ It was a lie.

The Trump administration is appealing an injunction on the phaseout of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and asking the Supreme Court to get involved. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
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“We are going to show great heart,” President Trump said at a news conference in February when asked about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “We are going to deal with DACA with heart.” If you believed that for a second, you were a fool.

Now we’re finding out what he’s actually going to do:

President Trump is expected to phase out the Obama-era program that grants work permits to about 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, but delay its end for six months to give Congress time to pass legislation to replace it, according to multiple people briefed on the president’s discussions.
Trump’s plan remains fluid and could change, however, and administration officials stressed Sunday evening that the president has not finalized his decision. The White House has scheduled an announcement for Tuesday.

As we awaited Trump’s decision, we were told in one news report after another that the dilemma was just tearing him up inside, because he had such sympathy for the young people known as “dreamers” (after the Dream Act, an earlier piece of legislation that would have granted them legal status). We’re still being told that. And why wouldn’t he? Since President Obama created DACA, more than 800,000 of them have come forward and registered with the government, making themselves vulnerable for the chance to stay legally in the place they’ve grown up. They’re people who were brought to the country illegally as children, and have done everything right since; in order to be eligible you had to still be in school or had to have graduated from high school or been honorably discharged from the military, and not committed a felony or serious misdemeanor.

According to a recent survey, 97 percent of dreamers are in school or working, those who are working are earning significantly more than they were before gaining legal status, and they’re starting businesses at dramatically higher rates than native-born Americans are. These are young people who grew up in America. Many of them haven’t seen the countries of their birth since they were too young to remember.

And now Trump is going to deport them.

Is anyone really surprised? It’s not just that as a candidate the president promised to end DACA; we know what his word is worth. But let’s remind ourselves of the person whose “heart” we’re talking about. Donald Trump began his presidential campaign saying, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He alleged that the judge in the Trump University fraud trial couldn’t do his job objectively because “He’s a Mexican” (the judge is in fact an American of Mexican heritage). He repeatedly told lurid stories of individual crimes committed by an undocumented immigrant, especially if the victim was a “beautiful” white girl, even though immigrants actually commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. As president he followed up by creating the Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement Office, which exists in order to publicize crimes committed by immigrants. A month ago, he endorsed a bill in Congress that would slash legal immigration levels in half. He claimed, ludicrously, that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton only because millions of undocumented immigrants voted for her. And the symbolic centerpiece of his campaign was a wall along our border with Mexico.

A Trump supporter might say that all that doesn’t mean Trump is a bigot, because we can’t judge what’s in his heart. The only appropriate response is: Give me a break. There is precisely zero evidence that Trump feels anything for dreamers. More importantly, none of us should give a damn what’s in his heart. What matters is what he does. And no president in our lifetime has encouraged, promoted, celebrated and exploited bigotry and hatred — particularly against immigrants — to the degree Donald Trump has. That’s who he is.

When he makes the announcement of this policy on Tuesday, he’ll no doubt talk about how much he cares about the dreamers, all while giving his anti-immigrant base exactly what it wants — a vision of these striving young people who want nothing more than to work hard and contribute to country that is their home being handcuffed and sent back to lands they barely know. He can’t claim that by punting the issue to Congress he’s being compassionate, because he knows that the odds that it will pass a bill allowing the dreamers to stay are uncertain at best. And this White House has shown itself utterly incapable of helping.

So now it’s time for the Republicans in Congress who have claimed to be displeased at this prospect to step up. When he was asked just last week about the possibility of Trump ending DACA, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said, “I actually don’t think he should do that. I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.” Well, what are you going to do about it, congressman? You’re the speaker of the House. If that’s what you believe, will you immediately introduce a bill to give dreamers permanent legal status and shepherd it through passage? Are you actually going to do something, or are you just going to shake your head and say how regrettable it all is?

I suppose it’s possible that Ryan and the rest of the congressional Republicans might surprise us. With Trump, however, there are few real surprises. His “heart” is an entity about whose existence we have heard rumors, but of which there have been no confirmed sightings. His cruelty, on the other hand? That we’ve seen. That we know. That we’ve come to expect.