By Josh Leach on January 23, 2019
Over the holiday weekend, when many of us were reflecting on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in fighting for equality and civil rights, President Trump seized hold of a shutdown crisis of his own making to try to force through Congress a set of white nationalist demands targeting immigrants and asylum-seekers. Then, this week Senate leaders unveiled a funding proposal that would pass many of the worst of these measures into law.
Trump and Senate leadership are trying to spin these proposals as a two-way compromise to end the shutdown. We are not fooled. DACA recipients (individuals protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, often referred to as “Dreamers”) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders would actually have fewer protections under these proposals than they do under current court injunctions.
Contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, this bill offers only temporary protections for a subset of DACA and TPS holders, while expanding detention capacity, hiring more deportation agents, further militarizing the border, and rolling back asylum protections for thousands of people who need access to fair asylum proceedings in order to survive.
We have not forgotten, moreover, that DACA and TPS protections would not be needed if Trump himself had not sought to terminate these programs over the last two years. Trump’s effort to use the victims of his own policies to bargain for more anti-immigrant measures is ethically abhorrent and dehumanizing—as underlined by the rhetoric of Representative Steve King this weekend, who tweeted about “trading” human beings just days after he was condemned for endorsing white nationalism.
Trump’s effort to divide people is destined to fail. Immigrant and civil rights leaders are united in their opposition to seeing the rights of any members of the community used as political bargaining chips against each other.
Further, the Senate legislation, which seeks to embody Trump’s proposals in law, contains numerous measures that could potentially place the lives of thousands of children and asylum-seekers at risk. Nevertheless, the bill’s authors have buried these extreme measures at the end of a 1,300-page spending bill, evading public scrutiny.
In a particularly Orwellian twist, the Senate bill has dubbed one of its worst proposals the ‘‘Central American Minors Protection Act of 2019.’’ In reality, this monstrous proposal would deny asylum categorically to the vast majority of child refugees from Central America who arrive at the U.S. border seeking protection, forcing them to apply for protection solely through a new in-country mechanism that has yet to be devised.
Forcing children to apply for asylum in the very country they are trying to flee places their lives at risk. While a thoughtfully designed in-country option could have a role to play in a larger good-faith response to the refugee crisis, it cannot ever provide a replacement or alternative for the thousands of people who need to travel across borders to seek protection.
As in the case of DACA and TPS, we do not forget that the Trump administration itself terminated the earlier Central American Minors refugee processing program, which previously provided an in-country option for some families. In doing so, they pulled the rug out from under thousands of families who had waited for months or longer to reach safety.
Trump’s elimination of this life-saving program, only to seek to enact it later as a categorical replacement for other much-needed modes of asylum-seeking, is one of the cruelest ironies in the history of an administration marred by similar injustices.
In the face of these efforts to divide communities and endanger basic human rights, we take strength from the words of Dr. King, referring to a 19th century Unitarian poet. “We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right,” King said in 1968. “‘Truth [is] forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.’ Yet that scaffold sways the future.”
Photo Credit: iStock – YiorgosGR