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Yvonne Abraham

Dashing Dreamers’ dreams would be cruel, but not unexpected

People waited outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Monday to be able to attend oral arguments over DACA.
People waited outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Monday to be able to attend oral arguments over DACA.Susan Walsh/Associated Press/Associated Press

CAMBRIDGE — For a measure of just how much ground we’ve lost over the last few years, look no further than the Dreamers.

On Tuesday morning, several of them stood at Cambridge City Hall to mark a US Supreme Court hearing that will decide their fate. Brought to the United States without permission when they were kids, they’re in their 20s and 30s now, studying, working, and paying billions in taxes. They were granted temporary status here in 2012 by President Barack Obama, under what is known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

They will lose that status if the nation’s highest court allows President Donald Trump to end DACA. And so, Dreamers Karina Ham, Tania Jaime, and Carlos Aguilar, who have been stepping up for years to tell their stories, heaved themselves into public view yet again.

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“My story is one of success that people love,” said Aguilar, a graduate student at Harvard. “But it’s a story I don’t want to continue to tell. I am scared. I am tired of living like this.”

Aguilar was flanked by advocates from the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern and Congresswoman Katherine Clark. A little plastic Ruth Bader Ginsburg doll stood on the podium, one arm raised: “Not actual size,” McGovern quipped, of the Supreme Court Justice’s likeness.

Used to be, all but the most callous immigration restrictionists had sympathy for Dreamers: They were brought to this country when they were too young to make choices of their own. They live American lives, and many of them have known no other home. We might be at war over other undocumented immigrants, but polls show we overwhelmingly agree these kids have done nothing wrong and shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ decisions.

That wasn’t enough to get a Dream Act passed in the first place, mind, which is why Obama created DACA. But it was enough to make a newly inaugurated nativist president leery of cutting kids like Aguilar loose, for fear that it would seem too cruel — even for him.

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“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” Trump tweeted, way back in 2017.

Whatever comfort that gave Dreamers didn’t last long. After all, Trump’s base delights in his cruelty. Compassion is inconsistent with his brand. And so he proceeded to use them as bargaining chips: During January’s government shutdown, he offered 700,000 Dreamers temporary protection as long as Democrats agreed to $5.7 billion for his border wall.

It was just a short hop from that hostage-taking to Tuesday morning’s tweet.

“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels,’” Trump wrote. “Some are very tough, hardened criminals.”

That is, of course, utterly untrue: DACA explicitly excludes applicants with felonies or serious misdemeanors, and Dreamers who commit crimes lose their status and are subject to deportation.

But hey, what do facts matter? The president and his cronies know what they can get away with, which is just about anything. His enablers will ignore, excuse, or defend his every action, because doing so serves their ends. After all, Senate President Mitch McConnell has courts to stack.

The senator from Kentucky stole a US Supreme Court seat from Obama in 2016, the seat that eventually went to Justice Neil Gorsuch who, with Brett Kavanaugh, has remade the court into a more conservative, partisan institution.

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Doll or no, Ginsburg and her liberal wing can’t hold them back. The court is likely to rule in Trump’s favor on DACA. And Dreamers will get no relief on Capitol Hill, where McConnell is also standing in the way of legislation that would make the ruling moot. This, despite the fact that there is a bipartisan appetite in the Senate — including from Trump bootlicker and Senator Lindsey Graham — for a fix.

Trump and his enablers have led this country so far from our values, and from what remains of our common ground, that there’s now only one path to relief for Dreamers exhausted from telling their stories: It runs directly through the ballot box.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com and on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.