Donald Trump reportedly will announce on Tuesday that he will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the legal protection accorded to 800,000 young people, known as “Dreamers,” who have lived in the United States since they were children. Dreamers are contributing members of society who grew up here but happened to be born in another country to mothers who moved here without the proper papers.
So much for not being punished for the sins of our parents. And for not being arbitrary and capricious in our public policy. Two siblings, a year apart in age, could face very different circumstances simply because the younger one was born inside the United States and the older one outside. One would be, thanks to our Constitution, an American citizen, with all the rights and privileges citizenship grants. The other could be a demonized “other,” subject to the whims of Trump.
The United States is the home of both siblings, just as much as it is for everyone else who grew up here. President Obama appropriately coaxed Dreamers out of the shadows on the promise that their government wouldn’t come along and exile them from their homes. They trusted their government. By doing so, not only are the Dreamers now in jeopardy, but so are other members of their families.
Trump’s action is part of his larger war on immigrants. He recently suggested changing the immigration laws so that the number of people immigrating to the United States would be cut in half. He has defamed immigrants by asserting that they are criminals – even though immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans. He has unleashed the power of the federal government to hunt down and deport people on the flimsiest of excuses, often separating mothers from children in the process.
His attitude toward immigrants is ignorant, stupid, and immoral. Trump is showing himself to be cruel and callous. His cavalier announcement that he would wait until after the holiday weekend to announce what he plans for the Dreamers and their families perfectly exemplifies his cruel and callous indifference to causing fear and worry.
But his policies are more than cruel and callous. They are destructive of our country in general and of our Social Security system, in particular.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the brilliant composer, lyricist, and performer, explained it in a succinct and catchy fashion, in a line from his hit musical Hamilton: “Immigrants, we get the job done!” Immigrants, in general, and the Dreamers, specifically, are members of the armed forces, firefighters, doctors, nurses, teachers, and other contributing members of our society.
Take, for example, Tomas Pendola, a high school chemistry teacher who came to this country at age 10. Now aged 25, he is one of about 20,000 Dreamers teaching in our schools. If they are deported, hundreds of thousands of our nation’s children will lose their teachers.
Trump’s decision to end DACA puts our communities at risk. It also damages our economy. Trump’s action will cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars in lost GDP. It will also hit Social Security’s financing, making it harder to expand, and not cut, our earned benefits.
Immigration is a net plus for Social Security’s financing. Because immigrants are generally younger, they contribute currently and do not draw benefits until far into the future. Ironically, undocumented workers contribute even more. They are prohibited from receiving Social Security, even when they can prove that they have contributed and so earned those benefits, just like the rest of us. The Social Security Administration has estimated that undocumented workers pay billions of dollars to Social Security each year, but earn no benefits as a result of those contributions.
If Trump has his way and cuts immigration in half, Social Security will lose $2.4 trillion over the next 75 years. In contrast, if immigration were doubled, Social Security would gain around $5 trillion over the next 75 years. The increased revenue that would flow to Social Security as the result of increased immigration would be about two and half times the cost of switching to the more accurate Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, so that benefits don’t erode. That projected increased revenue is about seventeen times the cost of restoring benefits to students between the ages of 18 and 22, whose working parents have died or become disabled. It is more than four times the cost of recognizing the invaluable role of family caregivers by providing Social Security wage credits to stay-at-home parents and other family caregivers. Indeed, it is substantially more than the cost of giving all current and future beneficiaries a five percent increase starting today!
The right policy, reflecting both the values and the self-interest of the country, is to expand immigration while bringing undocumented immigrants out from the shadows. But Trump is pursuing just the opposite. And the reason is not hard to see.
In order to keep all of us from uniting against him and his billionaire cronies, who refuse to pay their fair share towards the common good, he seeks to get us to fight with one another. In magic, it is called misdirection: Don’t look at all the upward redistribution of wealth; focus, instead, on our different heritages, religions, beliefs, and other qualities that set us apart from one another. President Franklin Roosevelt understood this tactic well. In a speech defending Social Security, he eloquently reminded us, “It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.”
Let us not let ourselves be so deluded. Let’s join together to fight against Trump’s divisive tactics and policies. Let’s join together and fight for policies that unite us, including the expansion of Social Security. A good place to start paying for that expansion is by increasing immigration and inviting Dreamers and others living in the shadows to come into the sunshine and join our great nation that reminds us, every time we look at our money, that out of many, we are one.
Nancy Altman is author of The Battle for Social Security: From FDR’s Vision to Bush’s Gamble (John Wiley & Sons, 2005) is president of Social Security Works and Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition. She is co-author, with Eric R. Kingson, of Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All (The New Press, 2015), and has written the forward to a new release of Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice.