There’s what Donald Trump does, and what Donald Trump says. Then, there’s what he says an hour later. Very often, none of these are in agreement with each other. This is the man with whom Democrats and Republicans have been trying to work out an immigration deal for DACA recipients for the last seven months.
On Friday afternoon, all those competing impulses were on display again. President Trump signed the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Congress managed to pass the night before after he threatened early Friday to veto it. Trump did make his displeasure known at the White House signing on Friday afternoon. “I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it again,” Trump said.
The spending bill will fund the federal government through to at least September, granting six months off from the regular “will they keep the lights on?” wrangling. The more-than-2,000-page bill covers opioid treatment, disaster relief, and national security. It provides funding for the hiring of more than 300 new Customs and Border Patrol agents. But the bill offers nothing for the 700,000 DACA recipients whose lives have been thrown into limbo after Trump canceled the program in September of last year. The spending resolution is widely seen as the last best chance to get something done on DACA.
“Nobody read it. It’s only hours old,” Trump said at the bill’s signing ceremony.
“DACA recipients have been treated extremely badly by the Democrats. We wanted to include them in the bill. Eight hundred thousand people, and actually it could even be more. The Democrats would not do it. They would not do it,” Trump added later.
But Trump’s only got cynical love for Dreamers, as DACA recipients are often called. Trump’s real criticisms of the bill are that, while it offered $1.6 billion for building and repairing existing border fencing, it put nothing toward the $26 billion needed to fund the “big, beautiful” concrete border wall that has become the symbol of Trump’s immigration and border-security policy. Under the bill, some 92 miles of fencing will be replaced or built, but all of it must hew to existing border-fencing models. None of the money will go toward building any of the wall prototypes that Trump went to visit in California last week.
At the signing, Trump claimed this part of the bill as a win, and suggested that funding fence repair is the same as funding his true dream project. “We funded the initial down payment of $1.6 billion dollars,” Trump said at the signing. “We’re starting work on Monday on some new wall, but also fixing existing walls and acceptable fences.”
“There are,” Trump said, explaining how fences and walls are so very alike, “some areas you have to be able to see through.”
But that’s not how he sounded at 5:55 am on Friday on Twitter: “I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded.”
Groups representing young undocumented people hit back at both immigration-related aspects of the bill. “This spending bill pumps billions more to agents who board buses to ask citizens and non-citizens alike for their papers…and who patrol border communities with guns and a political mission,” Greisa Martinez Rosas, deputy executive director at the national immigrant-youth network United We Dream, said in a statement on Friday. “Trump made more people vulnerable to his agents by killing DACA and [Temporary Protected Status] and this bill did nothing to protect us.”
While Trump sent some scrambling with his early Friday tweets, immigration advocates saw his veto threat as empty posturing. “It’s hard to take that seriously,” Diana Pliego, a policy associate with the National Immigration Law Center, said Friday afternoon, just before the White House announced that Trump would sign the bill after all.
“He’s rejected multiple bipartisan proposals [to save DACA] ever since he created the crisis,” Pliego said. Indeed, DACA, which is a deportation-deferral program and not an immigration program, exists entirely at the behest of the Executive Branch. Ever since canceling the program in September, Trump has repeatedly called for, then passed on, serious bipartisan deals to provide long-term protections for the 700,000 young people who’ve enrolled in the program.
He balked at an offer from Democrats this week to fund the wall when he refused to offer greater protections for undocumented young people. It’s the best offer Trump’s gotten yet, according to The Washington Post.
But as immigrant youth and advocates have been saying for some time now, all his wailing about DACA recipients’ being left out rings hollow. Trump has never prioritized the welfare of immigrant youth. “For us, [his veto threat] highlights that his intention all along was to use Dreamers as bargaining chips to get his wall,” Pliego said.
Trump’s strategy, now as ever, appears to be to cut young people off from their livelihoods and endanger their families in order to get Democrats and Republicans to the table, dangling hope in front of immigrants, but always snatching it away so long as he does not get his own actual prize: a big, beautiful wall.