Columnas / Migration
Trump didn’t get his wall but immigrants and asylum-seekers are still in danger

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Óscar Chacón

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Friday, January 25 will be remembered as the day in which a woman got the better of a US President known for machismo and mistreatment of women. The woman is Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker for the majority party in the House of Representatives. The president is Donald J. Trump. After repeatedly asserting that he would never back down on the partial federal government shutdown that had kept more than 800,000 employees in financial distress for more than a month, if it did not include $5.7 billion for his proposed border wall, President Trump approved a temporary budget agreement that allowed the government to reopen. Such a measure did not include a dime for Trump’s border wall. The three-week agreement merely postponed, rather than resolving the substantive issues in the shutdown dispute. The battle is far from over, although the first skirmish, at least tactically, was won by the Democrats in Congress.

The agreement reached between leaders of both parties, in both federal legislative chambers, postponed the final resolution of the conflict regarding the budget for fiscal year 2019 until February 15. This means that political-budgetary wrangling will continue to be the focus of national attention for another three weeks. The Trump White House has already made it clear that securing funding for its infamous border wall will continue to be a priority, although the description of what that means has begun to change. In one of his most recent press conferences, President Trump appeared to re-define a border wall, not as a physical structure as he has described it so many times, but as a series of border control measures that includes many other elements.

For their part, leaders of the Democratic Party have begun to soften their position, expressing openness to the approval of budget allocations close to the amount requested by President Trump, as long as they are not funds explicitly or exclusively destined to build a wall. In an article published by the New York Times on Saturday, January 26, Rep. James E. Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, stated that his party was willing to consider budget allocations of billions for what he called an 'intelligent wall.'

The change in the positioning of both parties suggests that the 2019 budgetary impasse may well be overcome by February 15, but the news is not necessarily good for immigrant communities. In fact, the tactical defeat suffered by President Trump at the hands of Nancy Pelosi could turn into a substantive victory for the racist and xenophobic agenda that has dominated the debate on foreigners and immigration policy over the past decades, and that has been driven so hard by Donald Trump.

If we can single out one positive aspect in which the debate on the government shutdown has evolved, including the speech of Donald Trump on January 19, it is the fact that the uncertainty facing people with temporary migration authorization re-surfaced in the national consciousness. More than one million people currently live and work in the US under protection from DACA, TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). Over the past two years, the Trump Administration has systematically canceled these protective measures. In the case of persons protected by DACA, the vast majority of beneficiaries are Mexican, followed by Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans. In the case of TPS and DED, the vast majority are Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians.

Unfortunately, those of us working across a broad set of organizations promoting the rights of immigrants in the United States have not come to a unified approach on how to make the most of this admittedly difficult and dangerous climate around the budget negotiation. This is especially true of those of us working with and for people who have been beneficiaries of DACA, TPS and DED. One line of reasoning among immigrant rights organizations argues that the only legislative initiatives deserving of support are those that do not incorporate any additional restrictive, exclusionary or punitive measures. Indeed, they insist on rolling back some of the punitive measures already in force.

In principle, this argument makes a great deal of sense. There is clearly no need for more spending on exclusionary or punitive measures given the history of the past thirty years. Since 1996, immigrant communities, especially those of Latin American origin, have been the target of a whole generation of repressive policies, rooted in a narrative that depicts foreigners as a threat to the country. The events of September 11, 2001, were used to reinforce the narrative mentioned before, which have led to policies that have inflicted great damage to Mexican and other Latin American communities. Although this trend had its origin in extremist sectors within the Republican Party, motivated by racist and xenophobic prejudices, the leadership of the Democratic Party has more or less accepted the same policy framework since 2002.

In analyzing what may happen, the key issue to understand is the balance of power in the legislative and executive branch. After the midterm elections November of last year, the Democratic Party now controls the House of Representatives. The Republican Party controls the Senate, and Donald Trump is still the President. Beyond our aspirations to correct the profound public policy failures with respect to immigration policy and healthy integration, the stark facts about the correlation of forces cannot be ignored.

In light of this reality, a number of organizations, including Alianza Americas, a network run by Latin American immigrants, have focused a spotlight on the plight of the people whose work permits the Trump Administration has already moved to cancel. In particular, the budget debate in Washington, DC has called out the urgent need for solutions for people holding TPS, DACA, and DED protections. At the same time, the budget debate requires us to denounce the absurdity of continuing to squander public resources to reinforce a harmful scaffolding of public policies based on false, negative narratives about immigrants.

So, the question remains – what if anything can actually be accomplished in this final round of budget negotiations that could benefit immigrant communities and protect the vulnerable people who currently seek humanitarian protections in this country. If we are to have any influence, we must make an extraordinary effort in the coming weeks to demand concrete solutions from Democrats and Republicans, to urgent problems. Those problems include the cancellation of temporary protection systems that have allowed millions to live, work, and contribute to the United States for many years. But they also include the systematic denial of humanitarian protection for people who have been forcibly displaced from their countries of origin and who wish to apply for asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. We must demand that the US finance and implement a robust asylum system in accordance with international law. And we must ensure a definitive end to separating of children from their parents.

The worst case scenario for the fiscal year 2019 budget would be to wake up on February 15 with a “compromise” providing billions more for immigration enforcement (Mr. Clyburn’s “intelligent wall), and no concrete actions to address real problems. That is the recipe for a new round of humanitarian crises over the next two years.


US citizen born in El Salvador, analyst on various topics of public policy and executive director of Alianza Americas @AlianzaAmericas @oachacon61
US citizen born in El Salvador, analyst on various topics of public policy and executive director of Alianza Americas @AlianzaAmericas @oachacon61

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