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US Dreamers awaking to a nightmare

Sir Ronald Sanders

Sunday, January 14, 2018

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Following the increase in the number of people being deported to Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries, the region might soon be facing another surge of returned migrants from the United States of America. This time it could be the so-called “Dreamers” — individuals who arrived as children in the US illegally but who have lived there all their lives.

The total number of Dreamers is unknown, and the exact Caribbean component is uncertain. We have some idea of the possible total number, because it is established that 690,000 of them currently have work permits that are under threat of withdrawal, paving the way for their deportation. But whatever the actual number of the Dreamers, the Caribbean-born ones are casualties of US President Donald Trump's policy to crack down on illegal immigration.

As part of this policy, Trump is seeking to end the directive of his predecessor, Barack Obama, that deferred action for childhood arrivals. The Obama Administration had taken the position that, since the Dreamers came to the US as children, through no fault of their own, and had lived their entire lives in the US, they should be allowed to remain in the US with a pathway to citizenship.

Trump's policy should come as no surprise to the Dreamers themselves or to countries the world over. In the campaign leading up to his election as president, he had called the programme an “illegal amnesty” and promised to eliminate it swiftly. But having assumed office as president, he let it languish for months, saying that he would treat Dreamers with “love” and try to work out a deal with Congress. Nonetheless, it remained part of his overall pledge to stop migration into the US, including by building a wall on the border with Mexico for which he said Mexico would be made to pay.

In the meantime, he imposed a ban on citizens of several Muslim countries and intensified a programme, started by Obama, to deport individuals convicted of criminal offences to the countries of their birth. The number of these deportees to Caricom countries increased in 2017 over the 2016 tally, except for The Bahamas, which had a decrease to 95 from 99; Trinidad and Tobago, which totalled 128 in each year, and Jamaica, which went from 787 in 2016 to 782 in 2017. The number in Guyana, the third-largest recipient of criminal deportees, increased from 93 to 137.

On September 5, 2017 the Trump Administration took action against the Dreamers, announcing that it would end the Obama programme by March 2018, rescinding their work permits. But, even prior to March, the Administration expanded the authority of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to seek out Dreamers nationwide. The ICE, incidentally, is the same agency that targets and deports people with criminal convictions.

Dreamers had a tenuous reprieve on January 10 when an injunction was granted by a US district judge that temporarily blocked the plans to rescind their work permits while a lawsuit, challenging the US Government's decision to end the programme, is before the Court. But the US Government vowed to resist the injunction, and Trump called on the US Congress to find a solution to the Dreamers issue.

Right now, this task seems extremely difficult. While many Democrat and Republican lawmakers want to produce and adopt a bipartisan proposal dealing with the issue in a way that would allow the Dreamers to continue to stay and work in the US, qualifying eventually for citizenship, groups that strongly supported Trump's campaign undertakings to curb immigration, want no ceding of any concessions.

On the same day that a US District Court allowed the injunction against the Government, top Democrats and Republicans tried to cobble together an agreement that would resolve the fate of the Dreamers; bolster border security; make changes in legal, family-based migration; and end or revamp the lottery system under which people could be chosen to qualify for US green cards.

The deal they are seeking, essentially, is refuge for Dreamers in return for heightened security at the border, including congressional approval to deliver the money to fund the building of the wall on the Mexican border. That deal looked dangerously close to being still-born on January 5 when the Administration gave negotiators a long list of conditions in exchange for protecting Dreamers. The list included a request for $18 billion over the next decade for the first phase of a border wall.

The Democratic senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, to whose tenacity I can personally attest, said, “It's outrageous that the White House would undercut months of bipartisan efforts by again trying to put its entire wish list of hard-line, anti-immigrant Bills — plus an additional $18 billion in wall funding — on the backs of these young people.”

My own view is that President Trump would like a solution to the Dreamers issue. Like many millions of Americans, I am sure he recognises that, apart from the place of their birth, the Dreamers are Americans in their entire life experience. It is simply hard-hearted to toss them from the US to countries they do not know.

But Trump has made commitments to his more extreme supporters on immigration; they are his core group who back him regardless of media and other criticism. Like all other political leaders, he has to keep them happy. Therefore, any deal on Dreamers must deliver restrictions on migration and border security to which he can point as a compromise.

Right now, that deal is not in the making, and the next few weeks might yet turn the dreams of young undocumented immigrants who have lived all their lives in the US into nightmares. Should that happen, it will harden hostility of immigrant families toward President Trump and the Republican Party.

The deportation of Caribbean-born Dreamers will also bring a sudden increase in some Caribbean populations. The region must hope that, should this occur, the disappointed Dreamers will bring productive skills and experience that could enhance Caribbean economic and social progress.

Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador to the US, Organisation of American States, and high commissioner to Canada; an international affairs consultant; as well as senior fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He previously served as ambassador to the European Union and the World Trade Organization and as high commissioner to the UK. The views expressed are his own. For responses and to view previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com.

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