President Trump told recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last month that he had their best interest in mind — far more so than his Democratic rivals — even after he allowed the program to expire.
At a news conference announcing the signing of the $1.3 trillion spending bill in which Trump didn't get what he had wanted on immigration, the president tried to convince the nearly 8 in 10 Latinos who voted against him in the 2016 election that his party supports them more than anyone else.
“I can tell you this, and I say this to DACA recipients, that the Republicans are with you. They want to get your situation taken care of. The Democrats fought us,” he said. “But I do want the Hispanic community to know and DACA recipients to know that Republicans are much more on your side than the Democrats, who are using you for their own purposes.”
But on the first day of April, the president was singing what sounded like a different tune — and it wasn't an April Fools' joke. He tweeted, as part of an anti-immigration tirade:
“Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release. Getting more dangerous. 'Caravans' coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”
It is more than just Latin American immigrants who benefited from the Obama-era program, which allowed immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children — or “dreamers” — to remain if they met certain conditions. As I previously reported, seven of the top 24 countries for DACA applicants with the highest acceptance rate are in Asia, Europe and the Caribbean.
But much of Trump's ire with the program, which benefited about 700,000 people, is targeted at people in general who enter through the Mexican border — who constitute a sizable percentage, but not the majority, of undocumented immigrants entering the United States.
But conflating youths fleeing to the United States in search of a better life with “dangerous” immigrants is not likely to convince Latino voters that the Republicans are with them, as Trump has claimed.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) tweeted Monday:
“Mr. President, these are children’s lives you are playing with here. Stop the bogus claims to excuse your anti-immigrant agenda. Instead, you could reinstate DACA immediately. That’s right, YOU ended DACA and YOU could bring it back.”
And Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) tweeted that Trump is making statements about undocumented immigration that do not even apply to DACA.
“Immigrants who enter the US today would not even qualify for
#DACA. Trump is telling blatant lies to support his anti-immigrant narrative and justifying his heartless decision to end the program in the first place. #ProtectDreamers”
Despite the efforts of those on his Hispanic advisory council, Trump's commitment to the Latino community has been questioned ever since he characterized some Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals when he launched his 2016 campaign.
And his approval ratings with the community have remained consistently low. According to Gallup, 20 percent of Latinos approve of Trump's job performance.
This might not matter much to the president, because he did not need the Latino vote to win the White House in 2016. But some in his party may need the vote of Latinos in the upcoming midterms. Races in Texas, Arizona, Florida and other border states where every voter matters could go to Democrats as those who sat out the election in 2016 show up to vote against a president viewed as antagonistic to diversity.
As The Fix's Amber Phillips previously noted, polls show evidence that the GOP could face political repercussions if dreamers get deported en masse.
The majority of Americans want to keep these young immigrants in the United States. And recent reports of families being torn apart as authorities deport people do not really help a party wanting to convince voters that “compassionate conservatism” is a value it still holds dear.
If Trump's idea of being tough on crime is interpreted as breaking up homes and returning young adults to dangerous environments, there is a possibility that even the few Latino voters who backed Trump in 2016 will turn against him.