After an official announcement from President Donald Trump’s administration regarding plans to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, in place since 2012, former President Barack Obama released a statement that stands firmly in the middle, an art the Democratic Party has mastered. It had the same flatlined bipartisan tone one has come to expect from Democrats.
In response to what will undoubtedly be a catastrophic initiative by an administration already knee-deep in deportations, and a now ever-more confident anti-immigration machine, Obama argued this is “a controversial subject,” and everyone should “play by the rules.” He failed to mention these “rules” devastated an untold number of families during his time in office.
United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization, criticized Obama when he acknowledged his administration was arresting and deporting undocumented youth. A high school honors student who faced deportation was told by Obama during a Univision Latino youth town hall, if she did not like what was happening, go talk to Congress.
Obama also invoked every nationalist’s favorite argument: “dynamic” economic benefits that immigrants are forced to provide in order to maintain a system that works tirelessly to detain and deport them.
The portrayal of immigrants as “contributors,” and even putting a number on their economic investments, such as in the case of Kamala Harris and organizations like MoveOn.org, works to further commodify human life. Their labor and their humanity are forced to occupy the same space in order for them to survive. Even the name given to recipients of the DACA, “Dreamers,” is a direct reference to the the economic might of the “American dream”—the same meritocracy myth that has allowed for climbing poverty levels additionally plaguing communities, including those hit by flooding, to be excused as simply a negligible result of poor financial decisions instead of the consequences of capitalism.
Obama additionally responds to Trump’s attack by suggesting to his supporters that “politicians of both parties have worked together to write legislation that would have told these young people – our young people – that if your parents brought you here as a child, if you’ve been here a certain number of years, and if you’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, then you’ll get a chance to stay and earn your citizenship.”
For the Democratic Party, it is always what one offers the United States, that which can be exploited, and one’s proximity to empire which will save one from the fangs of the deportation machine.
The U.S. immigration industrial-complex that the Trump administration is further weaponizing has had countless trial runs in the previous years. In 2014, the Boston Globe published a harrowing exposé, documenting the mass graves found along the U.S.-Mexico border. Hundreds of people forced to attempt to make a perilous journey into the U.S. were found wrapped in trash bags, nothing left to identify them but bones.
The thousands who trek in extreme weather conditions, leaving behind their families, walking along paths littered with cartoonishly malevolent border patrol officers—some of whom urinate into jugs of water left out for immigrants by advocates like Border Angels—are doing so because economic and military policies, such as NAFTA, and the support of death squads,have forced them into making agonizing decisions.
The Obama administration oversaw deaths of Honduran children, at least 5 of whom were murdered after deportation by U.S. authorities.
Between October 2013 and August 2014 alone, Border Patrol agents “apprehended about 63,000 unaccompanied children and another 63,000 “family units” (adults and children)”. The number deported during Obama’s term was staggering—2,749,854 undocumented immigrants between inauguration day and September 30, 2015.
Trump is now simply harnessing the full power of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST).
In the final paragraphs, Obama gets to the heart of why this issue, this subject of life and death, has forced a former president, who deported more people than most thought imaginable, into speaking out.
“Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be.”
But immigration isn’t only about decency, which for many Americans boils down to how one acts at the dinner table, or the way in which one converses with strangers. It is about humanity, and whether Americans will continue to purge people from their homes, denying them even the smallest chance at some kind of life.
It is about the necessity of destroying the romantic folklore, which teaches that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is necessary in order to be seen as human enough, and deserving enough of even a pittance of solidarity.
It is about the traditional yarn Americans spin for their own amusement and egos, about the immigrant who has to work endless hours, and suffer the indignities that come with poverty; that immigrants must bear a cross in order to deserve the support of those who see them as nothing more than a vital economic piece to the capitalist machine.
Obama’s deportations presented to the world a kind of “decency” that was lapped up by those enraptured by a well-versed statesman. And the Democratic Party now flinches at the thought of Trump’s callous escalation against immigrants because Trump has shattered a myth they maintained.
Ask yourself: are you resisting Trump’s indecency or the unbridled horrors unleashed on the world in the form of dehumanizing policies that force so many to decide whether to stay where they are or choose a path so dangerous and fraught with uncertainty?
If what you’re suddenly worried about most is “decency,” then where the hell have you been?