Is Donald Trump hoping to trade dreams for bricks? Is Donald Trump hoping to trade dreams for bricks? Kyle Grillot/Reuters

Is Trump holding ‘dreamers’ hostage?

DACA announcement seen as power play by US to have Mexico pay for border wall

Fulfilling one of United States President Donald Trump’s campaign promises, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.


The initiative, launched by former president Barack Obama in 2012, allows people brought to the U.S. illegally as children the temporary right to live, study and work in the country.

DACA protections will begin to expire in six months, giving the U.S. Congress a short window to legislate the now precarious futures of the 787,580 so-called “dreamers” who currently benefit from the program.

In Mexico, as in the U.S., Sessions’ announcement was met with distress. Nearly 80% of the program’s recipients were born in Mexico and ending DACA exposes 618,342 undocumented young Mexicans (as well as 28,371 Salvadorans, 19,792 Guatemalans and 18,262 Hondurans) to deportation. Many in this group, who range in age from 15 to 36, were brought to the U.S. as babies.

There’s been some speculation that the U.S. president is using DACA as a bargaining chip. North of the border, commentators think this is about making a deal with Democrats in Congress.

But as a Mexican scholar of U.S.-Mexico political history, I would argue that the DACA decision is more like a power play in Trump’s ongoing battle with the government of Mexico. So far President Enrique Peña Nieto has refused the White House’s demands that his country pay for the proposed southern border wall. And he only agreed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement after Trump threatened to withdraw the U.S. from it.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders all but confirmed that Trump sees DACA as a political weapon when she acceded to a reporter’s assertion that the administration “seemed to be saying . . . if we’re going to allow dreamers to stay in this country, we want a wall.”


Either way, I’d contend that Donald Trump is not only holding nearly a million innocent people hostage, trying to exchange dreams for bricks, he’s also neglecting the complex history of Mexican migration to the U.S. – a centuries-long tale that, like all national borders, has (at least) two sides.

Long before Trump ran for president, American politicians blamed Mexico for not doing enough to keep poor citizens from migrating northward. Mexicans, in turn, tend to blame the U.S. for creating the demand for cheap labour.

The two cross-border problems are deeply intertwined. And because the U.S. and Mexico have both benefited from undocumented migration, each country’s efforts to control it have been ambiguous at best.

It is true that Mexico’s economy has long been unable to provide enough decent work for its people. Though unemployment has ranged from 3% to 4% for the last two decades, underemployment is deep. In 2016, 14.52% of the Mexican labour force was either working fewer than 35 hours per week or being paid under the meager daily minimum wage (US$4.50 a day).

For Mexico, then, migration is a safety valve, releasing social tensions that would arise if impoverished migrants stayed home. Mexicans abroad also send large amounts of money to their families in the form of remittances, injecting some US$27 billion into the Mexican economy last year.

Simple economics, however, teach us that demand begets supply. For generations, the modern U.S. economy has thrived on low-wage Mexican labour. Even when nativism surged under president Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), who signed the Immigration Act of 1917 barring Asian immigration, Congress allowed continued recruitment of Mexicans to till American fields and lay American railroad tracks.

This trend continued throughout the 20th century. In 1942, the U.S. and Mexico jointly instituted the Bracero program under which millions of Mexican labourers were hired to work agricultural jobs in the U.S. while many able-bodied American men were off fighting World War II.

While under contract, braceros were given housing and paid a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour. By the time the program ended in 1964 (nearly two decades after the war’s end), the U.S. had sponsored some 5 million border crossings in 24 states.

Workers who came into the U.S. illegally were swiftly incorporated into the Bracero system, too. One of the more bizarre practices in the history of U.S. immigration policy was the so-called “drying out” of “wetbacks,” a derogatory official term for undocumented workers.

When the Border Patrol arrested a “wet” worker on a farm, officials would transport him to the border to set foot on Mexican soil – i.e., ritualistically “deport” him – and then allow him to step back into the U.S., where he would be hired to work legally as a bracero.

Mexicans have been crossing the border ever since, hoping to find the steady work and eventual acceptance that the Bracero program once offered. In the 1965-1986 period, for example, undocumented Mexicans made approximately 27.9 million entries into the US (offset by 23.3 million departures). In that same period approximately 4.6 million established residence in the country.

Without Bracero-style government support, American citizens and firms have simply employed those migrants under the table. Undocumented Mexicans dominate the U.S. agricultural sector, but they are also construction workers, line cooks, landscapers – even Wall Street brokers and journalists.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, a crackdown that promised tighter security at the Mexican border and strict penalties for employers who hired undocumented workers. However, the bill also offered amnesty to immigrants who had entered the country before 1982.

The term “dreamers” itself refers to another American attempt at immigration reform, the bipartisan Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2001, which would have offered permanent legal residency to young people brought to the U.S. as infants.

That bill was never passed. The Obama administration devised the DACA program as a compromise to protect those young people, many of whom have never known any country but the U.S.

Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa once described the border as “una herida abierta” – an open wound – where “the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.” The dreamers are children born of this wound.

Their uncertain fate has moved Mexicans, offering President Peña Nieto a rare chance to occupy the moral high ground. His administration has been ridden by successive scandals for months, including very public corruption and illegal espionage on Mexican citizens.

Peña Nieto conveyed his support for DACA recipients in his September 2 State of the Union address, saying: I send affectionate greetings to the young beneficiaries of the administrative measure that protects those who arrived as infants to the United States. To all of you, young dreamers, our great recognition, admiration and solidarity without reservations.

He later tweeted that any dreamers deported to Mexico would be welcomed back “with open arms,” offering them access to credit, education, scholarships and health services.

In a statement, the Mexican Foreign Secretariat acknowledged its northern neighbour’s sovereign right to determine its immigration policy but expressed “profound regret” that “thousands of young people” have been thrust into a state of turmoil and fear.

The ConversationTrump seems willing to use any tactic necessary to get his wall built. If the U.S. Congress does finally agree on a way to protect the dreamers, it will give these young immigrants the American future they deserve, but no wall – be it Mexican-funded or otherwise – will stop other young Mexicans from trying to build their own.

Luis Gómez Romero is a senior lecturer in human rights, constitutional law and legal theory at the University of Wollongong. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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  • cooncats

    DACA was an illegal exercise of the powers of the US presidency which do not include rewriting immigration or any other laws to suit one’s agenda. Even Obama acknowledged this.

    It is certainly nice of Mexico to finally admit the U.S. has the right to control its borders, now I want to know when Mexico is going to deal with the gross corruption and impunity that has caused millions of its citizens to leave home, about half of whom didn’t bother to legally immigrate to the U.S. while doing so. I am certainly happy to see both the U.S AND Canada calling out Mexico on its corruption and deliberate paying of starvation wages to its workers, it is high time for that. The bottom line is that if Mexico secured its own borders, there would be no talk of a wall.

    • Mike S

      The US has always had the right to control its borders and Mexico has never doubted that. The US choose for 50 years until 2008 NOT to control its borders and NOT to enforce labor hiring laws. Some US companies even ran ads in Mx newspapers promising good paying jobs for those who could show up. There was virtually no verification of ID or work visas required of US employers and few people were ever deported. So of course many poorer Mexicans went north to do the hard jobs most Americans did not want to do. Over the years many put down roots and some brought very young children with them. As these children grew up, they went to American schools, spoke English, and fully Americanized. Many have US born siblings. After 2008, number of border patrol and ICE agents dramatically increased. New arrivals and those committing crimes were deported and total number of undocumented residents began declining. Do we have an obligation for a path to legal status for these children who were brought here many many years ago and only know the US as their country? You bet we do. Trump is a despicable excuse for a human being fanning xenophobia and bigotry for political gain.These DREAMERS did not cause the 2008 GREAT BUSH Economic meltdown.. They have been vetted and are not criminals. They are a vital and productive part of our economy. You want to stop illegal immigration- simply enforce labor hiring laws with some teeth.

      • cooncats

        Yeah Mike, that’s why Mexico put out that flyer for its border jumpers that included tips on how to avoid arrest. BTW the only meltdown here is your continued TDS. LOL

        • Mike S

          Trump is a narcissistic, pathological lying, unread, unscientific, litigious, bullying, bigoted, reality TV, conman out for himself. He pushes “white nationalism” which went out with Manifest Destiny. He is riding the coat tails of the Obama economy for now and we will probably see a major depression before his term is up. He has strained relations with Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and is ruining them with Mexico. He loves “strongmen” around the world including Russia where he hopes to brand some hotels. He loves the Saudis. He has borrowed lots of money from Putin’s billionaire cronies and Saudi Royalty too. You need some TDS to inoculate you from this con job.

          • cooncats

            And Mike you are a ranting extremist partisan fool not to be taken seriously anywhere. Seek help and stop wasting bandwidth on this site.

          • Mike S

            Only 35% of the voting public approve of Trump’s behavior and ugly policies. Of that 20% will stick with him no matter how many lies he rants and how many con jobs he pulls off padding his own wealth simply because they identify with his racist white nationalism. They will rationalize away all his obvious ignorance and bullying. They have given up their critical thinking skills. You fall in that category. Enjoy it because he is gone in 4 years if not sooner. He lost the popular vote by 3 million and no way the “blue wall” of Mich, Penn, Wis would hold today. His presidency is a reality TV disaster….a dangerous soap opera. His primary goals for running for president was to get rid of the inheritance tax, drastically lower the corporate tax, and to give a boost to his hotel empire in Russia and Saudi Arabia.

          • ben

            please expalin black nationalism & why it is so popular w/the dem party? they took over the WH for 6 years. explain mex pride? la raza? we need reasonable white avocates. (for white european culture). i like jared taylor, he does include jews. trump is trying to reinstate some of obamas policies like restriction from terror countries. same as clinton did. let him do his job. hes a patriot. idea: media academia hollywood tells whites to go die. now be a good sheeple, step aside.

          • ben

            dont forget the boston bombers were white muslims. its culture not color which can be an issue.

        • ben

          the enablers are americans themselves & unfortunatly many expats. the worse mexcio gets the more it feeds thier dark minds & self rightious delusions. suckers. the enemy of the mexican people is their own govt.

      • ben

        not vetted, many dont have papers from the last few border surges.

    • Commander Barkfeather

      While it is true that Attorneys General from some conservative states were pursuing judicial action against DACA, that is a long way from establishing President Obama’s action as an “illegal exercise.” Now that Trump has rescinded DACA, the point is moot. And let’s be honest here: the Republican congress had six years to initiate DACA legislation and refused to do so. They now have six months. Anyone care to guess how that may turn out? It boils down to this: should the son be made to pay for the sins of the father?

      Finally, a confession: I have a fatal case of TDS. I can think of nothing I would rather see than factories returning to the US, Eisenhower back in the White House, and Leave It To Beaver back on TV. But it just ain’t gonna happen–particularly with Donald Trump. How is it that you can be so quick to point out the corruption in Mexican government, and yet be totally blind to the vagaries of the current US administration?

      • cooncats

        Well to start with, the “vagaries” of government in the U.S. don’t begin to equate to the comprehensive corruption of Mexico. It is no accident or prejudice that finds Mexico 10 orders lower on the list of corruption than the U.S. and continuing to fall.

        Mexico is run by a bunch of criminals and thieves and the result is that millions of their citizens had to flee to survive. The “vagaries” of government in the U.S. haven’t foreclosed the futures of the people there to the point where millions have had to flee their country. To equate the two is nonsense.

        In the face of this reality, these same shameless thieves rant about Trump in the hope none of you will notice or rebel against their criminality that has caused this heart breaking exodus.

        Trump didn’t rescind DACA. It is still in force. He has told the Congress to deal with it as part of a badly needed immigration overhaul. The U.S. has too much immigration and it is time to return to the tighter limits that were in effect before Ted Kennedy and the Democrats opened the floodgates in 1968. I support this.

        Trump has already stated that if Congress fails to act he will revisit his order.

        Anyone who follows my writings knows that I have argued to my fellow Americans that they have an obligation to normalize this situation because of their earlier “wink and nod” approach to border jumping by Mexicans and Central Americans. The U.S. is an equal partner in creating this situation and they have a responsibility to the people they basically invited to flout their own immigration laws.

        At the same time, I am a strong believer that it is time to bring said border jumping to a screeching halt. Mexico’s problems which cause this continued exodus are not going to be solved so long as the totally corrupt ruling class here can push said problems onto the U.S. It is long past the time for Mexico to take care of its own and be an equal partner in this matter of national borders.

        • Commander Barkfeather

          I see. So because Mexico is corrupt beyond all redemption, the US is entitled to some misadventures as well. DACA is still in force… for another six months… after Trump is out of office. Ted Kennedy and the Democrats did not open the floodgates. The names Tyson, Perdue, Armour, Hormel, Smithfield, and Conagra come to mind, though. Not to be overtly naive, but how are Mexican and Central Americans crossing the border for economic reasons any different from Pilgrims crossing the border (Plymouth Rock) for religious reasons. Who invited them? The US is a “have” nation. Mexico is a “have not.” This is due to a combination of Manifest Destiny, serendipity, and pure determination, not moral superiority. But a rehash of history, while recreational, is not a search for truth, and neither is a justification of the status quo. When it comes time to kick people out of the US, I can think of a number of more deserving candidates than Dreamers.

          • cooncats

            Trump isn’t going anywhere in 6 months, sorry to disappoint you. I suggest for your homework you look up the changes in U.S. immigration law sponsored by Splash Teddy.


            Your historic argument is certainly recreational to the point of nonsense. The continent was empty then, there was no USA

            Mexico is a have not nation by its own hand. And seemingly becoming more corrupt and dominated by criminal government and cartels by the day. Exactly why there’s a good reason in the interests of the U.S. for closing that border. I certainly appreciate we finally have a POTUS who is paying attention to the best interests of his own nation instead of everyone else’s.

            While you are learning something on this topic be sure and review Mexico’s treatment of its own illegal immigrants along the southern border. It is so shoddy it has attracted the censure of Amnesty International.

            Mexico has no standing to comment on American immigration policy or anything else for that matter. It is pretty telling that leftist Canada is joining with the US in the NAFTA negotiations to call out Mexico on corruption and screwing the working people with ridiculously low wages.

            I might also add that a country stupid enough to return the PRI to power also has nothing to say to any other country about their politics. It is no accident this tidal wave of corruption corresponds with the election of Peña Nieto.

          • Commander Barkfeather

            Reuters and other sources are reporting an agreement between the administration and Congressional Democrats Schumer and Pelosi to extend protections for “Dreamers,” thereby making our spirited debate academic. We are probably both surprised by this outcome. Sometimes even a blind pig finds a tit. Have a nice day. Til next time.

          • ben

            you are correct, no one invited the pilgrims. two wrongs dont make a right. we cant let mexicans/cent americans do the same thing. wrong is wrong. i dont want the hispanicization of america. the indians didnt want the europeans in america. people are tribal. america was great when if you wanted diversity, you moved to NY. good times.

    • Commander Barkfeather

      Your last line: “The bottom line is that if Mexico secured its own borders, there would be no talk of a wall.” Mexico’s borders are secure to Mexico’s satisfaction–it is the US that objects. It is not incumbent that a country keep its citizens within their borders. The Berlin Wall is the only exception in history I can think of. It is, instead, the obligation of the target country (in this case, the US) to prevent unwanted persons from getting in. To accomplish this, the target country may build a wall, use armed guards, dogs, or drones, employ diplomatic repercussions, secure the area with “cooties”… everything is on the table. The cost of these measures must be borne by the nation that utilizes them (the US).

  • jdwfinger

    wonder why no one comments on Hillary Clinton when she said on tv that the dreamer kids should be sent back where they came from. Trump just put the problem back in the lap of congress and told them to fix the problem they allowed to happen and continue.

  • Danny Francel

    DACA is dead. Invaders must get out………………….and soon.

  • Lloyd Le Blanc

    Heartless Americans !!!
    In Canada we have welcomed over 40,000 Syrian Immigrants in the past year with no issues.
    These DACA children,and they are children, where brought to the us as children and totally innocent.
    They basically know very little of their home country and should be allowed to stay.This racist action,hiding behind a weak,legal ” illegality is really pathetic.Immigrants are usually economic immigrants or refugees.Time for these people to avoid the us.Come to Canada and we will welcome you.

    • 101st

      “Time for these people to avoid the us.Come to Canada and we will welcome you.” So here ya go, Canada opens it’s arms to you, come one, come all. Canadians like what they see happening in Paris.

    • Jim Anderson

      That is the dummest response I have ever seen. Your Prome Minister just rescinded immigration orders and turned a large number away. When you get your act together let me know and I might listen to your rants.

    • ben

      sooo what is the canadian govt waiting for?? all talk. how is the crime w/those syrians going? not reported?

  • Güerito

    “But as a Mexican scholar of U.S.-Mexico political history, I would argue..”

    This guy wants a date with himself, doesn’t he?

  • Güerito

    It’s good to see an admission that Mexican unemployment figures are a complete joke.

    And that Mexico can’t even provide enough jobs for Mexicans now. Let alone if hundreds of thousands of “dreamers” return.

    And that the expulsion of low-skilled workers (majority mestizo/indigena) is a government policy necessary for Mexican polite elites (overwhelmingly white) to remain in power.

  • ben

    while 1000s of mexicans protest POTUS there are homeless americans. time to go frr ride over.

  • Güerito

    “But as a Mexican scholar of U.S.-Mexico political history.”

    Did he say that? LOL

  • Güerito

    “But as a Mexican scholar of U.S.-Mexico political history.”

    Did he really write that? Very outré. Needs an editor.

  • Stylez

    No one is holding anyone hostage. They are all free to go back where they came from.

    • ben

      maybe mex will have more tech comps for these skilled dreamers? as for the low wgae, how about some food vouchers? some help?

      • Stylez

        yes, time to get the Mexican government involved in helping their people and their future.

  • Three score and ten

    Certainly a complicated issue, but one thing is certain. almost everyone agrees that if DACA were challenged in court, it would thrown out as unconstitutional (even Obama said that) and the Dreamers would be liable for immediate deportation. Trump simply put the burden back on Congress with six month notice to deal with the issue legally. Want to see the Dreamers stay in the US? Write your Congressman.

  • Güerito

    Don’t buy all the PR-style hooey about ‘dreamers’:

    “For example, it’s often said — indeed, former president Barack Obama just recently said — that the approximately 690,000 dreamers were “brought to this country by their parents.” Well, many were. But that’s not required to qualify as a protected dreamer under the various plans, including Obama’s. You just have to have entered the country illegally before age 16. You could have decided to sneak in against your parents’ wishes. You’re still a dreamer!

    Likewise, we’re told dreamers are college-bound high school grads or military personnel. That’s an exaggeration. All that’s actually required is that the dreamer enroll in a high school course or an “alternative,” including online courses and English-as-a-second-language classes. Under Obama’s now-suspended program, you didn’t even have to stay enrolled.

    Compared with the general population, dreamers are not especially highly skilled. A recent survey for several pro-dreamer groups, with participants recruited by those groups, found that while most dreamers are not in school, the vast majority work. But their median hourly wage is only $15.34, meaning that many are competing with hard-pressed lower-skilled Americans.” ….

  • Güerito

    Yesterday Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray was in California. He stated “dreamers” are educated, lawful, and talented and represent a “treasure.”

    Then he said he would fight like hell to keep them out of Mexico because it would be a “great loss” for the US to lose these talented young people. LOL

    • ben

      if they are treasures then mexico will want them to return.

  • cooncats

    And unfortunately this Op-Ed and most of this discussion is a graphic example of the misinformation being put out by sources with an agenda in both the U.S. and Mexico. Here is a reasoned and detailed discussion of the entire program and the expiration built into it.

    Pay particular attention to the section entitled, “How DACA would naturally wind down.” This is the information the hopelessly biased U.S. media hasn’t been sharing with you. Trump could have done nothing and the program was going to end because it was always intended to be a temporary kicking the can down the road to the next POTUS whom unfortunately was not another leftist open borders type.

    If you follow Trump’s various statements on this project and recognize how the man operates it becomes plain he never intended to end it unilaterally and instead recognized that it had it’s own built-in end that would come in the Trump administration and become a liability, and that it is very useful as a bargaining chip to get some real reform.

    None of this changes the hard truth that this entire situation exists because of Mexico’s hopelessly corrupt and criminalized government that can’t provide either opportunity or security for most of the population. Hence, one of the greatest exoduses in history from Mexico to the U.S. As with all such situations in history, they eventually come to an end either because the cause is remedied or the receiving end of it gets tired of it and puts a stop to it.

    Mexico is running out of time to clean up its own act. Americans aren’t willing to be the safety valve and dumping ground used by the ruling and owning elites to avoid having to reform their own greedy and criminal behavior.

  • ben

    just in: the number for ammesty via daca is 3.7 million plus 400,000 central americas/haitians. this includes their families which brings the number up. they will get free instate tuition, EBT, free med, ect. average daca is 23 years old. they came @ 15 years old, some w/out parents, many have not finished highschool. about 2000 have been arrested for serious crimes. 15% (of the 800,000) have gone to college. the wall is not in the deal. this is the biggest ammesty the US has seen, way past 1986. say goodbye america. only 900 of the 800,000 have served in the army. trump says one thing the dems say another. source: jeff kuhner former conservative writter for washington times. broadcast today youtube the kuhner report 9/15. (or go to his site). if congress wont fund the wall, we can fund it ourselves. maybe be POTUS should step down if he cant manage his job.

  • ben

    i notice 2 of my comments were reported as “spam” ok. face it, the western world is now about ethnic replacement. the excuse is always the children or fleeing war. i wonder if if DACA candidates will be vetted. there were supposed to be qualifications but dont count on it. hungry built a wall. israel has a wall. just saying.