FEB. 3, 2018

Who Should DACA Dreamers Trust in Shutdown Politics?


After a vacation-style shutdown, the government has reopened but not with Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono’s vote.

Hirono stuck to her guns and was a principled no to the end.

In these Trump Times when truth is fluid and trust non-existent, you have to tip your hat to Hirono and the No voters. 

 “Protecting DREAMers, reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, funding Community Health Centers, and providing parity between funding for defense and domestic priorities – without pitting one against the other – were battles worth fighting,” Hirono said in a statement. “I’m confident that we can reach bipartisan agreement on these issues and it was completely unnecessary for the President and Congressional Republicans to force a shutdown on them. My consistent position has been to oppose any continuing resolution that did not include these priorities. I voted against this continuing resolution for this reason.”

Of course, what courage did it really take?

Hirono is in a safe state and could hang in tough, while other Democrats in red states had to vote with Republicans, vote yes and act “politically”.

Meanwhile, the people who are most affected by all the posturing are the nearly 800,000 or so Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program recipients, the DREAMERS.

They’re wondering if and when they’re going to be kicked out of the country.

Take Cheska Perez.

 She’s 20, an Asian American Filipino who immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was six. They all entered legally under the father’s work visa.

But as Filipinos know, things happen.

Her father lost his job and his visa. Perez and her family became what Filipinos love to call TNTs, a term of endearment for visa overstays.

She’s not afraid to talk about it either

“There’s nothing to hide,” Perez told me when I met her last year. “There’s nothing to be guilty about. It was not my fault. It was no one’s fault. We were stuck in a situation that became our reality. And that’s a lot of people’s reality as well.”

Perez is still fighting to save DACA. And her example makes you see the program’s importance.

As a DACA recipient, Perez has been on her own since age 18. She’s worked, paid taxes, and has even developed an app to help young people find college scholarships. Does it work? She’s her own best example.  She found a scholarship program that gave her a full-ride scholarship to a school on the east coast that cost more than $50,000 a year to attend and is ranked among the Top 40 national liberal arts colleges in America by U.S. News and World Report.

Why do Trump and other hardline Republicans want to kick her out of the country?

She’s one American Filipino making America great again.

But all the hubbub over DACA is happening because of Trump’s inability to be clear about Perez and the rest of the DACA Dreamers.

I was on the phone with Perez the night of the first senate vote. She was calm considering that she and the other DACA recipients had become Washington’s new political football.

True to her dream, she was hopeful.

“There’s a lot of momentum,” Perez said. “It’s really up to Congress now to ensure that there is protection for Dreamers. Everyone is doing all they can to ensure that happens tonight.”

Well, now we know they didn’t.

And if you’ve been following the negotiating process, we already know why. 

Donald Trump may know the art of the deal, but not when it comes to running the government, or building a political coalition.  Trump loves his base---those rabid pro-white nativists he placates at every turn.

Uniting the rest of America seems to be of little interest to Trump.

Trump is so outside of his “expertise” it’s no longer funny that he is taking down the office of the presidency and our country with him.

Hyperbole? Just look at how this DACA embarrassment unfolded.

You’ll recall the meeting a few weeks ago when Trump brought that bipartisan group of Congressional lawmakers into the Oval Office. Trump actually sounded reasonable.

“You folks are going to have to come up with a solution. And if you do, I'm going to sign that solution,” Trump said.

Trump was practically gushing while the media cameras were allowed to roll overtime. Why not? To counteract that tell-all book by Michael Wolff, “Fire and Fury,” Trump seemed to decide it was time to make us all veritable flies on the wall, so we can see for ourselves.

For the first time, he was saying things that made him sound vaguely presidential, especially on DACA.

"I feel having the Democrats in with us is absolutely vital, as it should be a bipartisan bill, it should be a bill of love, truly it has to be a bill of love," Trump said.

Trump even said he'd agree to a "clean DACA" separate from other issues that make up comprehensive immigration reform, such as "chain migration," the ugly rhetorical phrase conservatives use to condemn what humane folks would call "family reunification."

But Trump still wants that border wall and bragged that as a builder, he can get it done for less than $18 billion.

Trump was remaining the optimist.

"If we do the right bill. . .you're not so far away from comprehensive immigration reform," Trump said. "And if you want to take it that further step, I'll take the heat. I don't care. I'll take all the heat you want to give me. And I'll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans."

Those were the words by “Mr. I’ll Take The Heat” that began the negotiation that lawmakers on both sides trusted.

Was it real or just a set-up?

Now we know it was the latter; and realize that the president is not a man of his word.

How can you negotiate with someone whose words can’t be trusted?

We saw that days after the lovefest, when Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as “s---tholes.”

And then he denied it, despite what others said they heard.

And now we see his DACA rhetoric turn to s—t mid-negotiation. 

What about Trump’s love for the Dreamers? Maybe it was like the love he felt for the porn star Stormy Daniels, because now the word thrown around in negotiations is “amnesty,” as in “No Amnesty,” for the DACA DREAMERS. 

So back we go into the political darkness, waiting for Trump to signal the Republican-led government how to get out of this.

In the meantime, Cheska Perez waits for sanity, for someone to stand up to the bully Trump. Or for the bully to come to his senses.

She’s at the max of her DACA term and can’t reapply for any more extensions. Her documents are good through the mid-term elections.

Will she be forced back to a Philippines she left 14 years ago when she was six? 

“The administration is targeting any and all undocumented individuals,” Perez told me. “That’s frightening when you’re counting down the days you have left on DACA.”

Hirono seems to think she can trust Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to be true to his word to consider and get DACA approved by Feb. 8. But that’s the Senate.

Getting Trump on board is another matter. 

Trump’s on-again, off-again concern for the Dreamers is maddening.  A clean DACA bill without conditions is needed now.

Cheska’s reality, her future, shouldn’t be based on Trump’s whim.


EMIL GUILLERMO is an award-winning journalist and commentator who writes from Northern California. He recently won the 2015 Dr. Suzanne Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice from the Asian American Journalists Association California.

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