OPED: Mr. President, let’s talk about the Dreamers

Fabiola Santiago
Miami Herald (TNS)
Protesters hold up signs during a rally supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, outside the White House on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. Thousands are expected to gather for rallies on Tuesday, when President Donald Trump is slated to announce the program's future. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
  • The man leading the fight against the Dreamers is under indictment on felony security fraud charges.
  • Who’s the criminal to watch now?

Mr. President (aka @realDonaldTrump),

After the inauguration, you pledged to treat Dreamers with “great heart.”

You might have heard the collective sigh of relief around the nation from the White House. But, a mere month later, you were giving mixed signals.

“DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me,” you said. “To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases. In some of the cases they’re having DACA, and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly.”

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And then, again in April, you told The Associated Press that Dreamers could “rest easy.” You were “not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals.”

Let’s talk about that.

The man leading the misguided fight against the Dreamers, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, is under indictment on felony security fraud charges and faces a December trial. Surely, you’ve heard.

Who’s the criminal to watch now?

Paxton certainly better fits the label. He might have at his disposal the best legal guns in town, but an indictment rap is no small thing. Unless, he’s counting on another vile pardon from you of a law-enforcement offender.

Go after these young Americans without legal status, Paxton has urged you, without any regard or compassion for youth studying in our schools, playing with our children and contributing to their communities with labor and service. Paying taxes, too, I should add. Most Dreamers hold down jobs and study, no easy feat.

If you don’t take away their legal protections, Paxton has threatened, he’ll lead a 10-state effort to sue the federal government to end the 5-year-old Obama program known as DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This respite from deportation, enacted after immigration reform repeatedly failed to pass Congress, protects 800,000 of these young people and allows them a driver’s license and a work permit so that they can live within U.S. law. It’s not a permanent solution, but it’s legal status.

Paxton, not exactly a pillar of legality himself, even gave you a deadline: Sept. 5. I thought you didn’t get pushed around, but let’s face it, persecuting immigrants has been your thing since you launched your presidential campaign with a calculated plan to ride the wave of American paranoia post-9-11. Paxton likely thinks he’s aiding and abetting your purposes. Top officials of the Department of Homeland Security immediately moved to review DACA, and news reports say you want to use the Dreamer issue as a bargaining chip with Congress.

What happened your “great heart” for these young people brought here by parents who crossed borders or overstayed visas fearful of returning to their homelands, or simply, dazzled by the possibility of a better life?

You need not fear Dreamers. When you stop your praise for them to add the vitriol that there are criminals among them, you backtrack to the Hollywood-esque gang member stereotype these kids don’t deserve but can’t seem to shed. A white supremacist covered in tattoos is an American. A Hispanic kid with love for his mami professed in ink is automatically criminalized in your mind.

Seek help for the addiction to Fox News, Mr. President. Come to Miami Dade College and Florida International University and see for yourself.

The academic success and involvement in the school community are impressive. Talk to any teacher, and they’ll tell you that Dreamers study harder and give their maximum effort because they know what’s at stake. Are there some who are broken and troubled? Of course. A teacher recently told me about the hard time she’s having with a Central American youth who saw his father murdered in front of him, but she’s committed to reaching him, even inspired by the possibility of making a substantive difference in his life. We need not fear, but embrace these children who are coming of age among us.

But, getting back to Texas, I hope you were moved by the well-stocked convoy Mexico sent to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. I hope Texas — whose government is waging this petty legal battle to harm immigrant children — is touched as well. This isn’t the first time Mexico, a country far less wealthy than the United States, sent help. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mexico sent soldiers and supplies across the border, and they helped thousands of people who had taken refuge in San Antonio.

No doubt there’s a push for urgency with all of the immigration issues piled on your desk, Mr. President. No surprise there. This is a country of immigrants, and no matter how many generations removed from the first wave, that fact remains. Policy won’t change that, although you can claim a partial victory in that, under your watch, desire to immigrate to this country is plummeting and so are arrivals.

The fate of the meritorious Dreamers shouldn’t rest on the whims of an attorney general with plenty of dirty laundry.

Don’t let their American dream end with deportation to a life in a foreign country.

— Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may email her at