In a nationally televised speech on Jan. 20, Trump offered three-year protection from deportation for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients and tens of thousands from nations who qualify for Temporary Protected Status – programs the president unilaterally had ended with an executive order. The offer was quickly rejected by House Democrats, who dismissed the deal as a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who assesses Trump’s recent “dead on arrival” proposal to end the government shutdown.
THOMAS A. SAENZ: Well, I think it’s deplorable that we have now the longest partial government shutdown in our history. It’s entirely the result of Donald Trump’s insistence on a huge investment in an unnecessary wall at the southern border and his refusal to engage in anything that approaches reasonable negotiations. Although he touts himself as a great negotiator, what he put on the table a few days ago is clearly a nonstarter. He should have known that from the very beginning. You don’t offer three years of temporary protection for a million-plus folks in exchange for a permanent, extremely costly and unnecessary border to the tune of over $5 billion. That’s not even close to the reasonable way to start a negotiation. So it appears that Donald Trump will continue to punish federal workers just as he has targeted throughout his tenure – Latinos, Muslims, all immigrants, women. And he seems to have a perhaps better-hidden but now, manifest dislike for federal government workers as well. I don’t think there is much further explanation for his inability to understand the extreme suffering that he’s imposing on so many families, simply so that he can have a monument to himself in the form of an unnecessary wall.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Democrats have said that they’re willing to sit down and discuss any number of these issues. But, they insist that the government should be open first, laying the groundwork – there’s significant groundwork – for substantive talks. Is that something that you feel is a valid position at this point?
THOMAS A. SAENZ: I think it’s clearly true that these are long-term issues. The issue of protecting the Dreamers has been around for decades, a recognition widely shared that those who came here as minors were raised here, were educated here and already indeed already are making a contribution to our economy ought to be protected permanently. TPS, Temporary Protected Status, has for many of the countries involved, been in effect for over a decade and a half. So these are long-term problems. It certainly makes sense that we negotiate those long-term problems, not with a looming and continuing shutdown, but in the course of ordinary law-making at the federal level.
BETWEEN THE LINES: One concern I’ve heard expressed by Democrats and people opposed to the Trump-imposed shutdown, is that if they were to give in to the demands of Donald Trump for funds to build or partially build his wall, that there would be no end to what they term “hostage-taking” in the future – that Trump would say, “Hey, this is a gimmick that works. We’ll shut down the government” – that would assist him in pressuring members of the opposite party [in] giving him what he wants.
THOMAS A. SAENZ: I think it’s a legitimate concern in the way he deals with foreign governments and the way he deals with so many others. This administration has shown a tendency toward brinksmanship and that’s really not a good way of resolving any deep-seated problem that requires wise consideration. So I am saying I share that concern about really incentivizing other forms of brinksmanship at the level of serious policymaking that’s involved here.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Well, just a final question on this. What are the essential elements in your view, of comprehensive immigration reform that this country needs?
THOMAS A. SAENZ: Well, I think it does start with ensuring that we protect the over a million workers who have been contributing to our economy and that’s both DACA recipients and TPS holders and that we protect them long term. We have to address the rest of the undocumented population, the vast majority of whom came here peacefully and contribute to our economy and our society and raise families, including U.S. citizen children. We also have to address the constitutional flaws in our existing immigration system that exist solely because immigration is an exception to so many of the laws that we all ascribe to. There is in our current allocation scheme for lawful permanent residents, blatant racial discrimination on the basis of national origin. There are daily due process violations in our immigration courts and now attention has been brought to those kinds of due process violations at the border. So we have to really ensure that our immigration system on a go-forward basis better reflects the constitutional values that we all ascribe to and that begins by protecting those who are here and adopting a system for the future that has the hallmarks of fairness and due process that are so central to our constitutional scheme.
For more information on the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, visit maldef.org.