It isn’t hard to think of a long list of reasons to be skeptical of the government. There are follies of war like Vietnam and Iraq; scandals like Watergate and Abu Ghraib; abuses of power like the NSA’s mass data collection and IRS targeting; examples of crippling dysfunction like Obamacare and Benghazi; and rank ineptitudes like Hurricane Katrina, bridge collapses and mining accidents.
This isn’t to say the government can’t do anything right — it can. But it does make clear why, according to Pew, between 1958 and 2015, trust in government has collapsed from a high of 73 percent to just 16 percent.
And yet, at least 800,000 undocumented immigrants, and by extension countless others who were pushing for their temporary protection under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, had enough trust in government to surrender all of their most valuable, and vulnerable, personal information.
Now, they are rightly worried about what the government — which now means President Trump — will do with it all.
Upon applying for DACA protection, immigrants had to surrender all kinds of information proving they were here illegally, including where they lived, worked, went to school, etc. They were photographed and fingerprinted.
If President Trump now would like to deport them, this makes it substantially easier to find them.
At the time, Dreamers were promised by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that their data would be walled off from other agencies, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But immigration lawyers knew better.
Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney, told the Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff that he advised most of his clients against applying, saying “It puts a target on your back.”
Even, apparently, the drafters of DACA knew better. Tyler Moran, who served on the White House Domestic Policy Council for immigration, told Wired: “We knew that another administration could come in and either decide to rescind the DACA program itself or make different decisions about information sharing.” He continued, “I guess this is the worst-case scenario now.”
Indeed, I guess Dreamers will have to live with “I guess.”
According to a White House memo obtained by the Daily Beast, “Information provided to USCIS in DACA requests will not be proactively provided to ICE and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings. With that said, it can be utilized for such proceedings when appropriate.”
Dreamers should be worried. The lessons here are many.
The obvious is what small-government conservatives, libertarians and privacy hawks have been warning, which is that the government should not be entrusted with or given access to your personal information but for very rare cases. Those cases shouldn’t necessarily include reasons of national security, let alone receiving benefits like those offered by DACA.
Another lesson: The wisdom of separate but co-equal branches of government. Congress is there for a reason. Executive actions like the one Obama used to create DACA come with plenty of unintended — if anticipated — consequences. Because DACA was just a policy and not a law, passed by Congress, very little in it was enforceable by another administration.
Whether Obama figured a like-minded Democrat would succeed him, or that the politics of peeling back DACA by a Republican would be too prohibitive is irrelevant. He knew that Dreamers would be vulnerable, one day, to deportation.
A final lesson? Trusting the president means trusting the government. I’d wager many Dreamers and the Democrats who pushed for DACA were thinking about President Obama when they asked themselves, “Can we trust the government to protect our data?”
Never mind that they had little reason to. Under Obama’s tenure, the IRS had targeted conservative organizations, collected mass data through an NSA spying program and gone after unfriendly journalists and whistleblowers.
But more importantly, any time you are willing to surrender your privacy or civil liberties, you need to ask yourself: What will the next guy do with it?
Among the many hurdles Dreamers have faced and will likely continue to, it’s stinging that the information that could lead to their deportation was collected by the very administration that granted them their temporary freedom. Today their information — and their future — lies in the hands of President Trump. How much will they trust “the government” now?
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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