Did you notice who was peering over the shoulder of a well-behaved Donald Trump on Thursday as he sat beside President Barack Obama following their transition meeting?
A bust of Martin Luther King Jr.
Obama added the King sculpture to the Oval Office during his first term. What a perfect image for a wary nation. A martyr to the nation’s painful struggles for inclusion and fairness is watching.
America, too, has its eyes trained on Trump. We’re seeking clues as to how he might turn from the bombast of his campaign to attitudes more appropriate for governance. The toned-down, conciliatory Trump of recent days may be starting to grasp just how foolhardy most of his promises were. Or so we can hope.
Constructing a fabled wall at the U.S.-Mexico border is unfeasible and would require Congress to authorize the funding. Hard realities impinge on the flights of fancy.
Ditto for upending the Affordable Care Act. Congress and the Trump administration can pick away at it here and there, but to repeal it outright will require crafting a replacement. Blowing up the North American Free Trade Agreement and shaking down NATO allies will cause unintended and unpleasant consequences. The self-branded master dealmaker has his work cut out.
Much of this Trump surely understands. He knew he was shoveling slogans to voters. It sounded so appeasing to those whose grasp on middle-class existence was slipping.
But Trump will want to deliver … something. In his first days in office, he’ll need to throw a tasty morsel to supporters, something to prove that he’s still their man.
The easiest group to cast into that den will be the young people flourishing under Obama’s executive action on immigration.
More than 740,000 immigrants have benefited from the 4-year-old program known as DACA, for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
These young people epitomize the American dream. These are the “Dreamers,” children whose parents brought them to the country, some as toddlers and infants. They grew up fluent in English, as immersed in American culture as any child, desiring to chase their dreams with the rest of us. Many only discover that they lack immigration status when they go through teenage rites of passage, such as applying for a driver’s license or seeking a first job.
DACA isn’t a permanent fix. It merely offers a two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation and the chance to work legally for those who qualify through a lengthy application vetted under the Department of Homeland Security.
With the flick of a hand, President Trump could do away with it. The optics will be great — or horrible, depending on who you are.
Work permits would suddenly be nullified, forcing young people to go into the “informal” economy. Students would drop out of college. Dreams would be crushed — the dreams of people who are essentially blameless in their predicaments.
Of course, Trump might choose to crush their dreams slowly, by denying renewals of status, rather than making a big show of it all at once.
Advocates are warning those who have not yet applied for DACA to weigh the risks of doing so. Not having a traceable address, fingerprints, photo and other data in government files might be preferable later, if threatened deportations ramp up under a Trump administration. So this maneuver would increase a hidden, undocumented population.
Administrations have always set priorities for who is targeted for deportation, with most of the emphasis wisely on violent criminals. Obama reached out with DACA for these young people as a last-ditch effort when Congressional gridlock killed the hope for immigration reform.
Studies have shown that once their presence is lawful, DACA recipients tend to find better-paying jobs, which means they contribute more to the tax base and drive economic growth. They also focus on college, as about 20 states allow them the opportunity to pay in-state tuition fees.
This is a just and enlightened policy. This group once drew bipartisan sympathy and compassion. Sen. John McCain was an early, persistent voice for them.
Even Donald Trump must be capable of recognizing DACA’s merits. But will he? Or will he see the opportunity to look tough to his nativist base — an easy way to mollify them before his whole platform of undeliverable promises is exposed for the sham it is?
No matter what happens, realize that these young people don’t long for foreign countries they never considered home. They are Americans by spirit, if not by paperwork. If a Trump presidential decree forces them to rejoin the undocumented class, they’ll have to take it.
One thing is for sure. Targeting them will constitute a potshot action, a blow to our once-vaunted commitments to fairness and opportunity.
IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque