When Steve Bannon left the White House, some immigrants’ rights advocates breathed a little sigh of relief. It now appears that sigh was premature.
In the last 72 hours, President Donald Trump’s actions have indicated that he will be unflinchingly aggressive in enforcing immigration laws—even if that means deporting people who aren’t criminals and shutting down the government.
On Aug. 24, reports emerged that the president is inclined to end an Obama-era program that temporarily blocked the deportations of DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and either have jobs or are in school. Only people with no criminal records are eligible for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which also gives participants work permits. The program currently protects more than 750,000 people from being deported.
Many Republicans (including, quite vocally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions) ripped into Obama when he set up the program, because he didn’t do it through Congress. They argued it was “executive amnesty”—a presidential power grab that they said was blatantly unconstitutional. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to end DACA on Day One.
More than 200 days passed, however, and DACA is still running. But that may change soon. NBC News reported on Friday that the president is “likely” to end the program. It would be entirely in his power to do so.
This week, the president also said he may refuse to sign government-funding legislation unless it includes money to build his big, beautiful wall.
“The obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it,” he said at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, “but believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”
It’s not an idle threat. Many Capitol Hill Republicans privately say a shutdown is only getting more likely. Goldman Sachs recently told investors there was a 50-50 chance it will happen this year, according to Axios. Congress must pass government-funding legislation next month to keep the government’s doors open. The likelihood that Republican leadership will be able to cobble together the votes for any significant wall funding—in fact, the likelihood that Republican leadership will even try to get the votes —is teensy.
So, does this mean showdown? It’s up to Trump. And Trump seems unhappy.
Shutdown wasn’t the only idea he floated at the Phoenix rally; he also said he was considering pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court for defying a court order related to racist immigration enforcement practices. This seemed lost on the president at his rally, when he rhetorically asked the crowd if they thought the sheriff was convicted “for doing his job?”
“You know what, I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine, okay?” he continued. “But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe should feel good.”
The president’s prediction of his own behavior proved correct. On Friday evening, as a hurricane hurtled toward the Gulf Coast, the White House announced that Arpaio—whose conviction sprung from the fact that he treated Hispanic people worse than people of other races—had been pardoned.
Given this, Bannon’s absence seems like an afterthought. Senior staff will come and go, but Trump won’t change. And he’s put undocumented immigrants on notice.