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Ups and Downs - Winter 2018

It has been an interesting year in many ways, both good and bad. A turbulent 2017 in Washington spilled over into the New Year with a government shutdown marking the Trump administration’s one year anniversary. Instead of attending a gala celebrating in Mar-a-Lago, President Trump spent his weekend in Washington DC in the wake of the happily brief government shutdown. This came after an especially turbulent and acrimonious week of in-fighting in Congress that came to its seemingly inevitable climax on Friday, January 19. As the clock struck midnight, no 11th hour reprieve could be found to stitch together a divided and polarized nation.

The government shutdown was about a lot of things. But it was really about one thing over all else – something that has been a major topic of discussion in the Newsletter over the past year – Immigration.

Donald Trump differentiated himself from his Republican challengers early on with his stance on immigration. He was, and is, hostile to both the concept of immigration and to immigrants more generally. This hostility is especially pronounced toward people from countries he deems less desirable, such as those from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. This hostility has been made clear in many ways, but most dramatically when he announced that he would end the Obama-era protections under the DACA program.

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was established under President Obama to extend temporary protection to the 800,000 or so children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country by their parents and who essentially grew up as Americans, lacking only the documentation to make it official. DACA recipients – also known as Dreamers – have limited, if any, memory of their countries of origin. Most are productive members of American society, doing all the things young Americans do, including going to school, establishing careers, getting married and having families. The large majority of Americans (around 70%, according to a recent CBS News poll) are in favor of legalizing Dreamers and allowing them full citizenship rights. Even a majority of Republicans favor permanent legal status for the Dreamers.

But nothing is ever simple in Washington. President Trump’s decision on September 5, 2017 to end legal protections for Dreamers under the DACA program was the first domino to topple in our current shutdown drama. Trump’s stated reason for ending DACA was that the Obama administration had overstepped its authority in creating these protections in the first place. But underlying this argument was the sense that Trump, some of his senior advisors, and certainly his most hard-core supporters, wanted Dreamers out of this country altogether, along with their undocumented parents and many other categories of immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

The repeal of the DACA protections poured fuel on the decades-long dispute between Republicans and Democrats over immigration reform. Suddenly, there was a very real deadline for resolution to these tensions. Without Congressional action, Dreamers will lose their DACA protection in March 2018. Without it, they are subject to deportation just like any other immigrant living in this country without proper documentation.

I have strongly argued in this, and recent, Newsletters that immigration is critical to the future of Chicago and the Midwest. Chicago’s economy has been unusually dependent on immigrants going all the way back to the city’s founding (see related article in this issue of the Newsletter). As Chicago and the Midwest lose native-born Americans to other regions of the country, we rely more and more on foreign-born immigrants to replace these losses. If Washington’s hardening opposition to immigration translates to new, more restrictive immigration laws, this can be expected to have an especially harmful impact on our local economy.

The future of the Dreamers and the polemic over immigration, more than any other issue, is what currently divides the two sides and explains the government shutdown. As I write this column, Congress has ended the shutdown, funded the government for three more weeks, and agreed to continue to try to find an immigration solution that all sides can abide. Where this ends is far from clear. I fear the worst. The only thing that seems clear to me right now is that the gulf between Red and Blue America just keeps getting wider.

Steve Cain is Secretary of RPBG. He writes articles and compiles content for our quarterly newsletter. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of RPBG and its Members.



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