Donald Trump announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program for undocumented people who arrived in the United States as children. Over 800,000 people received these “deferrals” that allow them to remain in the US, get an education and participate in the economy – to an extent. Never perfect, DACA nonetheless represented a better outcome than deportation.
The President ended the DACA program and asked Congress to take legislative action to replace it within six months. If Congress does not provide some relief then presumably those 800,000 people will be liable for deportation to a country where they did not grow up. While not perfectly aligned, the style and content of the 21st century announcement hauntingly parallels the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act passed 167 years ago when slavery was legal in the South.
The parallels are haunting:
On a surface and obvious level, a white man from the South – Attorney General Jeff Sessions just announced the end of the program that in six months could result in 800,000 non-white people being rounded up by law enforcement and shipped south.
The original Fugitive Slave Act required state and local officials to return “runaway slaves” to their master in the south. Authorities that refused to do so would be fined at $1,000 per act (almost $30,000 in today’s dollars). State and county governments fought it in places such as Cass County MI, and the states of Wisconsin and Vermont – a precursor of the “sanctuary city” debate of today. Southern slave state politicians called it “nullification of Federal law”--another echo of today’s political wrangling.
The Fugitive Slave Act did not allow for a trial by jury. All it took was an affidavit from the supposed “master” and any black person could be sent south. This echoes the experience of US citizens and Green Card holders with brown skin being rounded up and imprisoned by ICE. In the current best-selling, award winning novel Homegoing, one of the protagonists, a pregnant, free woman of color is kidnapped in Baltimore and taken south into slavery.
And, both cases involve keeping labor cheap. Despite the national political debate industries that depend on large numbers of undocumented labor, such as agribusiness in the Central Valley of California, have not suffered extensive raids. However, heightened fear among undocumented immigrants recruited to work in these industries keeps the immigrants nervous and docile in the face of widely-reported “race baiting”.
The history and failure of the Fugitive Slave Act led to the American Civil War. Northern states refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, the slave holding state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, which led to the creation of the Confederacy and that initiated the Civil War with their bombardment of Fort Sumter. The carnage in this current 21st century summer in Charlottesville 167 years later, and the repeal of DACA calls into question the ultimate motives and goals of the current Administration and the real meaning of their motto “Make America Great Again.”