Can Trump Dreamers be held hostage to make Mexico pay for its border wall?

In fulfillment of one of US President Donald Trump’s campaign promises, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The initiative, launched in 2012 by former President Barack Obama, allows people who were brought to the US illegally as children the temporary right to live, study and work in the country.

DACA protection will begin to expire in six months, giving the U.S. Congress a short time to legislate the now uncertain future of the 787,580 so-called “Dreamers” currently benefiting from the program.

In Mexico, as in the US, Sessions’ announcement was greeted with distress. Nearly 80% of the program’s recipients were born in Mexico, and the termination of DACA exposes 618,342 undocumented young Mexicans (as well as 28,371 Salvadorans, 19,792 Guatemalans, and 18,262 Hondurans) to deportation. Many in this group, who are between 15 and 36 years old, were brought to the US as babies.

There is some speculation that the US President is using DACA as a bargaining chip. North of the border, commentators think it’s about making an agreement with Democrats in Congress.

But as a Mexican scholar of American-Mexican political history, I would argue that the DACA decision is more like a power play in Trump’s ongoing struggle with the Mexican government. So far, President Enrique Peña Nieto has refused the White House’s claims that his country pays for the proposed southern boundary wall. And he only agreed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement after Trump threatened to withdraw from the US.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders almost confirmed that Trump regards DACA as a political weapon when she agreed to a reporter’s claim that the administration “appears to be saying … if we are going to allow dreamers to get involved in this country to stay, we want a wall “.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on how DACA relates the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Be that as it may, I would argue that Donald Trump is not only holding almost a million innocent people hostage, and trying to exchange dreams for bricks, he is also neglecting the complex history of Mexican migration to the US – a centuries-long story that , like all other land borders, has (at least) two sides.

Where dreams come true

Long before Trump was elected president, U.S. politicians blamed Mexico for not doing enough to stop poor citizens from migrating north. Mexicans, in turn, tend to blame the US for creating the demand for cheap labor.

The two cross-border problems are deeply intertwined. And because the U.S. and Mexico both benefited from undocumented migration, each country’s efforts to control it were at best ambiguous.

It’s true that Mexico’s economy has long been unable to provide enough decent jobs for its people. Although unemployment has fluctuated from 3% to 4% over the past two decades, unemployment is deep. In 2016, 14.52% of the Mexican workforce either worked less than 35 hours a week or paid below the meager daily minimum wage (US $ 4.50 per day).

For Mexico, therefore, migration is a safety valve, releasing social tensions that would arise if impoverished migrants stayed at home. Mexicans abroad also send large sums of money to their families in the form of overpayments, which last year injected about US $ 27 billion into the Mexican economy.

Simple economics, however, teaches us that demand produces supply. For generations, the modern American economy has flourished on low-wage Mexican labor. Even as nativism increased under President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), who signed the 1917 Immigration Act that barred Asian immigration, Congress allowed continued recruitment of Mexicans to cultivate American fields and lay American railroads.

This trend continued through the 20th century. In 1942, the US and Mexico jointly instituted the Bracero program, which hired millions of Mexican laborers to do agricultural work in the US while many resilient American men fought World War II.

While under contract, braceros obtained housing and paid a minimum wage of thirty cents per hour. By the time the program ended, in 1964 (almost two decades after the end of the war), the US had sponsored some 5 million border crossings in 24 states.

Can Trump Dreamers be held hostage to make Mexico pay for its border wall?
The Braceros workers came to work legally in the USA during World War II. Here, in 1954, a group of Braceros crossed the border at Mexicali.
Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA Library via Wikimedia Commons

Workers who entered the U.S. illegally were also quickly inducted into the Bracero system. One of the more bizarre practices in the history of American immigration policy was the so-called “dehydration” of “wet backs,” a derogatory official term for undocumented workers.

When the Border Patrol arrested a “wet” worker on a farm, officials would transport him to the border to set foot on Mexican soil – that is, ritually “deport” him – and then allow him to return. walk to the US, where he would be appointed to work legally as a worker.

Mexicans have since crossed the border in hopes of finding the steady job and eventual acceptance that the Bracero program once offered. In the 1965-1986 period, for example, undocumented Mexicans made about 27.9 million entries in the U.S. (instead of 23.3 million departing). In the same period, about 4.6 million settled in the country.

Without Bracero-style government support, American citizens and firms simply employed those migrants under the table. Undocumented Mexicans dominate the U.S. agricultural sector, but they are also construction workers, line cooks, landscape workers – even Wall Street realtors and journalists.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, a repression that promised stricter security at the Mexican border and severe penalties for employers who hired undocumented workers. However, the bill also provided amnesty to immigrants who entered the country before 1982.

The term “Dreamers” itself refers to another American attempt at immigration reform, the Duality Aliens Development, Enlightenment and Education Act (DREAM) of 2001, which would have provided permanent legal residence to young people who moved to the US as infants. was brought.

That bill was never passed. The Obama administration designed the DACA program as a compromise to protect those young people, many of whom have never known any country other than the United States.

Can Trump Dreamers be held hostage to make Mexico pay for its border wall?
Workers have been crossing the U.S.-Mexico border for generations, sometimes with the support of the U.S. government, other times despite a wall.
Edgard Garrido / Reuters

Bricks for dreams

Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa once described the border as “an open wound”- an open wound – where“ the Third World scratches and bleeds at first ”. The Dreamers are children born from this wound.

Their uncertain fate moved Mexicans and offered President Peña Nieto a rare chance to occupy the moral high ground. His administration has been plagued for months by successive scandals, including widespread public corruption and illegal spying on Mexican citizens.

Peña Nieto conveyed his support to DACA recipients in his State of the Nation Address of 2 September, saying:

I send loving greetings to the young beneficiaries of the administrative measure that protects those who arrived in the United States as infants. To all of you, young dreamers, our great recognition, admiration and solidarity without reservation.

He later tweeted that any Dreamers deported to Mexico will be welcomed back “with open arms”, giving them access to credit, education, scholarships and health services.

In a statement, the Mexican Foreign Ministry acknowledged its northern neighbor’s sovereign right to determine its immigration policy, but expressed “deep regret” that “thousands of young people” were driven into a state of unrest and fear.

Trump seems willing to use any tactics needed to get his wall built. If the US Congress finally agrees on a way to protect the Dreamers, it will give these young immigrants the American future they deserve, but no wall – whether Mexican-funded or otherwise – will stop other young Mexicans from trying their own build. .

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