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Need to Know: DACA, Government Shutdowns, and Our “Shithole” President

Donald Trump is using the lives of 800,000 young immigrants to push his border wall proposal, Democrats are threatening a government shutdown, and that’s all before the “shithole” hit the fan.

by Zach Harris

Photo by Molly Adams

Here at MERRY JANE we’re convinced that the world revolves around cannabis. From politics to culture, civil rights to economics, you can find keef dusted across every facet of modern life. But in these increasingly divided times, where natural disasters go damn-near ignored for two months and Twitter fingers have almost literally become trigger fingers, it's become increasingly important to highlight the most pressing news outside of the cannabis space. In a recurring round-up, MERRY JANE will break down the stories making waves in media, politics, technology, and culture — keeping you up to date on what’s making our world tick. Here's what you Need to Know.

When Donald Trump won the presidency and assumed his seat in the Oval Office a year ago this week, immigration advocates were understandably nervous about the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era policy allowing children brought into America by parents without proper documentation to avoid deportation and work towards citizenship.

After hooking his campaign to the wagon of America’s racist anti-immigration fringe, Trump took office and immediately began trying to tighten the country’s borders, but left DACA alone, promising time and again that Dreamers (DACA recipients) would not face the brunt of his nationalism. Of course, that was a lie, and in September of last year, Trump ordered an end to the program, calling on Congress to pass a replacement before the nearly 800,000 Dreamers become vulnerable for deportation in March.

With Congress back in session for the new year and a government shutdown over budget disagreements looming, Trump and his Republican legislative lackeys are now holding the president’s anti-Dreamer decision over the heads of their Democratic peers, threatening to withhold votes on DACA unless the bill guarantees funding for Trump’s southern border wall and increased military force. On the left side of the aisle, progressive lawmakers are threatening to lock out budget votes and cause a government shutdown if DACA’s protections are not properly restored for the future.

And that’s all before Trump used a bipartisan DACA policy meeting to call Haiti, El Salvador, and a number of African nations “shithole countries,” devolving immigration talks to the base form of every Trump-era policy battle — a childish clusterfuck of Twitter fights and pass-the-buck lies.

But no matter how absurd the legislative process has become, the lives of 800,000 young immigrants still hang in the balance, the government is slated to shutdown on Friday of this week without a budget agreement, and it is still the responsibility of our elected officials to resolve those issues (eventually). To break down exactly what’s happened so far in the fight to save DACA and what’s to come, we’ve compiled a series of deep dives from around the web, from the president’s Congressional immigration meetings to the courtroom and back to social media. This is what you need to know about America’s immigration debate.

Tara Golshan for Vox
 

After unilaterally moving to end DACA in September because he disapproved of the program’s “amnesty-first approach,” Trump confused both his allies and detractors last week, when during a televised, bipartisan immigration meeting the president eschewed conservative talking points and called for a “clean” DACA bill, restoring protections for Dreamers, before moving to a “phase 2” of immigration policy that would address military spending and a budget for the border wall that Trump so ardently promised during his campaign.

“We are going to do DACA, and then we then we can start immediately on the Phase 2, which would be comprehensive immigration — I would like that,” Trump said during the meeting on Tuesday, January 9th. “I think a lot of people would like to do DACA first.”

That path fits almost perfectly in line with Democrats’ approach, prompting Republican legislators in the room to remind the president of he and his supporters’ supposed hardline anti-immigration stance.

“Mr. President, you need to be clear though... when we talk about just DACA, we don’t want to be back here two years later,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy chimed in. “You have to have security, as the secretary would tell you.”

As the widely broadcasted meeting came to a close, no decisions had been made, with Democrats optimistic that a compromise could be made, while Republicans split, both lauding the president’s openness and scratching their heads about his inconclusive stance. Doug Stafford, a top advisor to Republican Senator Rand Paul, took to Twitter and summed up the conservative response in only 32 characters.

Josh Dawsey for the Washington Post
 

Two days after the first bewildering immigration meeting, the president and the group of bipartisan lawmakers gathered in the Oval Office for what would eventually become one of the most discussed comments of Trump’s already-contentious tenure.

In the 48 hours between the two meetings, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, lead by Republicans Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham along with Democrat Dick Durbin, had reached a preliminary agreement that would assure both safety for Dreamers and funding for Trump’s border wall.

As you’ve probably heard by now, the president did not respond well to the bipartisan proposal. Taking a decidedly harsher tone than the first debate, Trump derided legislators about the idea that immigrants from “shithole countries” would still be allowed entry to the U.S., specifically insulting the people and countries of Haiti, El Salvador, and a number of unnamed African nations. Instead, Trump told the room that he would prefer an influx of immigrants from Norway (which is, for many reasons, laughable).

The meeting ended with no agreement and no progress, with White House officials telling the Post that the group was “nowhere near a bipartisan agreement on immigration.”

In the five days since his “shithole” comments, the debate about immigration has devolved into a spat of he-said, he-said posturing to both confirm Trump’s exact verbiage and once again debate the president’s clear racism — averting focus almost entirely away from the fate of Dreamers, immigration talks, and the still-impending government shutdown.

Alex Johnson for NBC News
 

Before Trump could set the 24-hour news cycle on fire with his “shithole” insults, though, U.S. District Judge William Alsup took matters into his own hands, partially reinstating the DACA program for already-registered Dreamers.

Arguing that the DACA removal “wrongly and unconstitutionally violates the rights of the University and its students,” officials at the University of California filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on September 8th of last year, just three days after the president announced DACA’s demise. Judge Alsup’s ruling last week gave Dreamers around the country a much needed, albeit partial and temporary victory, but may also have influenced Trump’s debate-skewing remarks in the following days.

"It just shows everyone how broken and unfair our Court System is when the opposing side in a case (such as DACA) always runs to the 9th Circuit and almost always wins before being reversed by higher courts," Trump wrote in a tweet on Wednesday morning, hinting at what was yet to come on Thursday.

In the preliminary injunction, Judge Alsup directed the Department of Homeland Security to immediately resume accepting DACA renewal applications, but did not require the federal agency to accept new applications from prospective Dreamers.

Because a final court decision has not yet been made and DACA’s success was only partial, the Congressional immigration debate is still expected to shape Dreamers’ future — a terrifying prospect considering the legislative process has turned from near compromise to absolute chaos in less than a week.

Jim Newell for Slate
 

Since his incendiary comments from Thursday’s closed door meeting became public, Trump has taken his boisterous personality to its apex, telling a scrum of reporters on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day that he was “the least racist person” they had ever interviewed.

Taking to his favorite social media app, Trump has tweeted consistently from the moment Thursday’s meeting ended, blaming Democrats for stalling negotiations on the DACA program that he single handedly sabotaged only three months prior. After all, there would be no need for a DACA compromise if Trump hadn’t rescinded the program in the first place.

With only three days until the latest government spending stop-gap runs out, Democrats are still threatening to withhold any long term or temporary budget extensions if a DACA deal is not reached by Friday’s budget deadline.

Unfortunately, legislators appear to be further than ever from striking an amicable deal with the president and his supporters, leaving registered Dreamers to trust in the federal court system and prospective participants with no recourse but hope; a feeling that’s getting harder and harder to justify by the day.


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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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