In the waning weeks of his presidency, as President Barack Obama was set to leave office and cede it to president-to-be Donald Trump, Obama implored his successor to protect the beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in a private conversation the two men had prior to the inauguration.
Just a few weeks later, in the final days of his presidency, Obama said more bluntly that any effort from the new administration to target Dreamers would lead him to speak out publicly—something he has largely avoided in the first months of the new administration.
“The notion that we would just arbitrarily or because of politics punish those kids, when they didn’t do something themselves... would merit my speaking out,” Obama said at the time.
Nearly eight months later, Trump—who is often inclined to do exactly the opposite of his predecessor—is weighing a decision to end DACA, which granted some 800,000 undocumented immigrants who had been brought into the country as children the ability to stay and work in the United States.
Trump’s weighing of options comes in advance of a push from state attorneys general to bring the program to an end by Sept. 5. Texas, in the midst of recovery from Hurricane Harvey, is leading the pack with a 2016 suit regarding DAPA, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program. The program was blocked by the courts and never went into effect after the Supreme Court deadlocked on the issue. But the new threat, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, is to challenge the legality of DACA should the president not rescind it next week.
As of now, Obama, who has been careful with his words and condemnations during Trump’s presidency, is remaining silent as the situation from the White House remains uncertain. But that’s not to say that former administration officials will not speak out instead.
“There’s no rationale for revoking DACA. And the harm it would cause is enormous,” Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under Obama, told The Daily Beast.
Whether this is a “red line” issue that would compel Obama to follow his word and speak out against the Trump White House, Muñoz didn’t want to speak on the former president’s behalf.
“I mean that’s not really for me to say,” Muñoz told The Daily Beast. “His comments at his last press conference were pretty clear and I’m not sure there’s anything I could add to that.”
But she described the issue as something of great importance to Obama saying that his meetings with DACA recipients during his presidency were “some of the most personal meetings I saw him have.”
“He believed in their courage and the courage it took them to tell their stories,” Muñoz said.
Throughout Trump’s campaign, he made pledges to overturn executive actions taken by Obama on immigration. But as his presidency was close to beginning, Trump’s language changed on Dreamers making it unclear as to what he truly believed.
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Trump vaguely told Time magazine at the end of 2016. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
As leaks from the administration indicated in certain news reports on Thursday that a termination of the program could come as soon as Friday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted that no final decision has been made at this stage.
But Democrats and activists are preparing themselves for the worst, gearing up to fight no matter what.
During a keynote address at the Democratic confab Netroots Nation just a few weeks ago, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) staunchly defended the program and savaged the Trump administration for threatening it.
“In 2012, because of the persistence of many of you in this room, 800,000 young men and women were protected from deportation,” Warren said. “Dreamers, who are as American as you and me, were promised a chance. They were promised a chance to work, a chance to live without being in fear of being ripped away from family and friends and the homes that most of them have known.
“Let’s stand together and say: President Trump, let Dreamers stay,” Warren continued.
On Wednesday night, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) pledged to protect the program during a town hall in Oakland.
“Those young people who have only known one home, the United States, and were promised that they would receive deferral from deportation if they gave us information about themselves and live a productive life,” Harris said. “We talked about the need to make sure America keeps its promise to those young people.”
Meanwhile, activist groups have not waited for their cue from the White House to hit the ground running.
United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization made up of more than 100,000 members, has held week-long mobilization efforts in Arizona and Texas and coordinated a massive march outside of Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday to defend the program and its beneficiaries.
“We’re not sitting down waiting for the president to make a decision,” Cristina Jiménez, executive director of United We Dream told The Daily Beast.
The issue is of immediate importance to Jiménez whose brother is a Dreamer.
“When you grow up undocumented, you’re fearing deportation all the time,” Jiménez said. “The DACA program has brought that protection from deportation that allows you to be a little less fearful every day.”
Watching the Trump administration go through its machinations about the policy which would affect the lives of so many and impact a signature part of Obama’s legacy, Muñoz was left confused as to why this was a target of the White House.
“You can quantify the harm and nobody can quantify the benefits,” she said of ending the program. “That’s what makes this conversation inexplicable to me.”
And it’s likely inexplicable to the former president as well.