SAN SALVADOR – US President Donald Trump is using so-called Dreamers (young undocumented migrants) and Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries as bargaining chips in a broader plan to secure congressional funds for his anti-immigrant policy agenda, the director of a Salvadoran non-governmental organization said in an interview with EFE.
Cesar Rios, executive director of the San Salvador-based Salvadoran Migrant Institute (INSAMI), said Trump’s administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last year and announced the termination of TPS for Salvadorans this month so he could trade future protections for those affected populations for legislative items that serve his “political and economic interests.”
He said that in exchange for not deporting Dreamers and TPS beneficiaries Trump wants congressional approval for funds to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, expand the number of border enforcement agents and immigration judges and eliminate sanctuary city laws (under which cities do not cooperate with federal authorities on deportations and other enforcement actions).
“We’re in the middle of negotiations on the United States budget and in a period in which the president wants to build the wall no matter what” because that was a major campaign promise that he is determined to keep, Rios said.
In September, Trump announced the discontinuation of the DACA program, which then-head of state Barack Obama created by executive order in 2012 to shield hundreds of thousands of Dreamers from deportation.
He said Congress had until March 2018 to find a solution for these people – brought to the US illegally as children – before he begins phasing out DACA’s protections.
On Tuesday, Trump held a televised meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers in search of a solution for Dreamers, as potential beneficiaries of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act are known.
Trump is looking to secure funding for a border wall as part of a deal that would allow Dreamers to gain permanent legal status, although he also appeared at one point during the meeting to be open to a so-called “clean” Dreamer bill, one that would leave other immigration issues for future legislation.
Many of his hard-core supporters were furious at the president for seemingly backtracking on his tough campaign stances on immigration and particularly for indicating during the meeting that he favored “comprehensive immigration” reform, a taboo term for hardliners that implies a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented migrants.
Trump also said in the meeting that he trusted lawmakers would come up with a bill to remedy the country’s various immigration issues and that he would sign whatever legislation reaches his desk.
Numerous versions of the DREAM act have been introduced in Congress over the past 17 years in a bid to provide a path to legal status for individuals brought into the US unlawfully as children.
Roughly 690,000 Dreamers are currently enrolled in the DACA program and thus shielded from deportation.
A group of Republican lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled the details of an immigration bill that has the support of the country’s president and proposes to fund the wall, end chain migration (whereby immigrants can bring family members into the country in the future) and offer Dreamers the possibility of legally residing in the country, although it would not provide them a path to citizenship.
On Jan. 7, the Trump administration also announced that TPS protections granted in the wake of a pair of devastating earthquakes in 2001 in El Salvador would be allowed to expire in September 2019, thus ending protections from deportation for 190,000 Salvadorans. Earlier, the Trump government had ended TPS protections for Nicaraguans and Haitians.
But Rios said the Trump administration’s priority was expelling gang members and expressed confidence a solution could be worked out for law-abiding people.
“The US at this time is not prepared for a mass deportation” because a “deportee costs a lot” and El Salvador also does not have the economic and social capacity to receive such a large amount of people.