The administration has also sought to destroy legal protections for specific, sympathetic populations — including nearly 650,000 unauthorized immigrants brought here as children, nicknamed “dreamers,” who had been shielded from deportation and granted work permits through the Obama-era DACA program.
Immigration is supposed to be Trump’s signature issue. Yet a majority of Americans have disapproved of Trump’s handling of immigration throughout his presidency, according to surveys from Gallup, CNN-SSRS and CBS News. You’d never know it from Trump’s rhetoric, but the share of Americans who believe that immigrants strengthen, rather than burden, the United States has generally trended upward for the past decade, reaching 62 percent last year, according to Pew Research Center.
That’s the broad immigration picture. On individual policies, too, Trump has diverged from public preferences.
Take the administration’s many actions to bar the world’s most vulnerable, those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Trump has slashed refugee admissions and recently suspended them altogether. Last week he introduced a rule that would gut the U.S. asylum system. Meanwhile, roughly three-quarters of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, say that taking in refugees fleeing war and violence should be an important goal of U.S. immigration policy, according to Pew. Other polls also show majority support for asylum seekers and refugees.
Trump has made it harder for immigrants to come here on employment-based visas, through processing delays and red tape. Another anti-immigrant executive order, this one reportedly suspending entire categories of work visas (such as those for skilled workers), is expected as soon as next week.
Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of Americans — again including a majority of Republicans — think that immigrants both legal and undocumented primarily fill jobs that U.S. citizens don’t want, Pew has found. And roughly 8 in 10 Americans support encouraging highly skilled people to immigrate and work in the United States.
If Americans don’t seem to have punished Trump for taking actions so out of step with their stated preferences, that might be because they largely don’t know about them. Aside from the kids-in-cages phase of abusing asylum seekers, these policy changes haven’t been terribly telegenic and have gotten relatively little media coverage. That recent blanket suspension of refugee admissions, for instance, got almost no attention.
But one extremely unpopular policy change has seized public imagination: the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to kill DACA.
Thanks to the hard work of dreamers and their allies, few issues have captured hearts and minds quite as universally as DACA. Dreamers have stepped up and told their stories — about how America is the only country they have ever known; how they’re contributing to their local communities, tax coffers and the overall economy; and how many are saving American lives on the front lines of the pandemic response, even as the threat of deportation hung above their heads.
Political support for these young immigrants is overwhelming. In more than a dozen recent polls, supermajorities of Americans (and a majority of Trump voters!) have said they believe dreamers should be granted permanent legal status or citizenship.
No wonder Trump has declared his “big heart” for dreamers — a declaration made right before he tried to get them all fired and deported. Perhaps precisely because dreamers are so sympathetic, Trump saw them as a useful hostage in his efforts to get Congress to accept other unpopular items on his nativist agenda.
Thursday’s ruling has tied the administation’s hands, though just barely. The court said that the administration has the authority to terminate DACA but that it sought to do so the “wrong” way (that is, it violated the Administrative Procedure Act). Unless Congress passes a permanent legislative fix — such as the bill that passed the Democratic-controlled House a year ago — Trump could try again to kill the program, this time the “right” way.
That would, of course, run counter to the interests of these young immigrants, the economy and Trump’s own political career. Not that such considerations have ever stopped him before.