There was a myth, some time ago, that the “good” ones would be spared. President Donald Trump’s war on undocumented immigrants would target the “rapists” and drug dealers he’d warned about during his campaign announcement speech, or so he seemed to imply.
“I want to ask about ... so-called dreamers — [undocumented] children who were brought here, as you know, by their parents,” ABC News’ David Muir asked the president shortly after his inauguration in January. “Should they be worried that they could be deported?”
“They shouldn’t be very worried,” Trump replied. “I do have a big heart. ... Where you have great people that are here that have done a good job, they should be far less worried.”
At the time, Trump declined to reveal his plans for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — an Obama-era policy that lets some undocumented people brought to the United States as children defer deportation and obtain valid drivers’ licenses and legal employment. But the ambiguity was short-lived. On Tuesday, the administration plans to end DACA, upending the lives of the roughly 800,000 people it protects and who risked exposing their undocumented status in exchange for something like American citizenship.
This is shocking only to those who still believed the president thought there were undocumented people worthy of life on U.S. soil. For the rest, it confirmed what has been apparent for months: The only “good” undocumented immigrant, to Trump, is a deported one.
Neither nuance nor humanity have much space in the president’s immigration vision, as evidenced by the ICE crackdowns that followed his Jan. 25 executive orders to hire more immigration and border patrol officers; to create a public database of crimes committed by undocumented people; and to direct federal funds toward building a border wall and more immigration detention centers, all while ending “catch and release” policies that let immigrants walk free while they await deportation proceedings.
Ruptured families now fill the news, stories of fathers captured in ICE raids while dropping their children off at school. Amid these are scattered examples of Trump supporters who cannot believe his policies affect them, too. Roberto Beristain, owner of a Granger, Indiana, steakhouse, was deported to Mexico in April, where he hadn’t lived in 20 years. He was forced to leave behind three children and a wife, Helen — the latter of whom voted for Trump.
“[Trump] did say the good people would not be deported, the good people would be checked,” Helen told Indiana Public Media in March — shortly after Roberto’s deportation and months after he’d reportedly warned her that Trump would “get rid of the Mexicans” if elected.
“I wish I didn’t vote at all,” she added in the South Bend Tribune. “I did it for the economy. We needed a change.” What’s clear now is this change meant gutting the mechanisms that had previously kept her own family intact.
Indeed, the rampant deportations that characterized the past two presidential administrations — including a record 2.5 million under President Barack Obama between 2009 and 2015 — have been augmented by a renewed mercilessness under Trump, whose nationalist vision for the U.S. leaves increasingly little room for the undocumented. Part of why white supremacists have latched so excitedly onto his platform is that many of his policies would bring them that much closer to the ethno-state they desire, if implemented as proposed. Almost 8 million of the 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. in 2015 were from Mexico or Central America.
Tuesday’s announcement further illustrates how rapacious these policies are. There’s scant evidence that Trump privileges so-called “goodness” over immigration status, that he’s ever tried to distinguish between being undocumented and being dangerous or that, more broadly, he has any interest in nuance on the subject. His aim is symbolic rather than practical — to affirm that American citizenship means circumnavigating barriers Trump’s own forebears had the privilege to avoid — and to fortify those barriers to the point of near-impregnability. This is the America Trump wanted all along. And this is the America he’s getting.