White House Chief of Staff and former head of Homeland Security John Kelly's comments on Tuesday about the number of people who were eligible but did not apply for protection under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are incredibly revealing, though not in ways he intended. They show how uninformed he is about the lives of undocumented people and reflect a callous disregard for the fear and anxiety that is roiling immigrant communities nationwide. His words give further evidence to those who have charged that racism that appears to be driving the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Also, quite frankly, his comments are lazy.
To explain: About 690,000 people were granted work permits and the ability to remain in the United States under DACA, while the Migration Policy Institute puts the broader number of DACA-eligible people in America at 1.9 million. (Kelly, in an apparent error, referred to this latter number as 1.8 million.) “The difference between 690 [thousand] and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up,” Kelly said according to The Washington Post.
Given that the overwhelming majority of DREAMers are Mexican, Kelly's remarks aren't just intellectually lazy, but a lazy dog whistle about Latino immigrants in general.
It is inconceivable that anyone not just lazily reaching for any excuse to insult a hard-working group of young people would characterize the DREAMers as “lazy.” It was their relentless activism that led President Obama to create the DACA program in 2012, and they have continued to mobilize for their right to live and work openly in the only country that most of them have ever really known.
While some young people who were eligible for DACA did not apply, there are myriad well-known reasons for that.
Research by Tom Wong of the University of California San Diego, for instance, found that confidentiality concerns and cost were two main deterrents to young people applying for DACA.
When taken in context with Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and his comments about immigrants from “shithole countries,” it is clear how little this administration values non-white migrants.
A DACA application was seven pages long, and required that applicants provide all sorts of personal details and submit to a biometrics appointment — i.e., give their fingerprints to the U.S. government. A significant number of undocumented people clearly feared that a new administration like this one could potentially use their information to eventually deport them and their family members. (And, as the Trump administration’s arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants has surged, maybe those fears were not unfounded.)
Besides which, it cost $495 to apply for DACA, and each renewal cost another $495, while the average annual earnings for a DACA grantee are $36,000, according to the Center for American Progress, and the median annual earnings are $32,000. And these are figures for those who had already received DACA and can work legally; for those who were still working off the books, that $495 would have seemed like a huge sum.
Some young people also did not apply for the program because they were misinformed about it or because they feared the stigma of outing themselves as being in the country illegally, reported NPR.
There is rich irony in Kelly deriding anyone as “lazy” when he works for the most incurious president in American history, a chief executive who spends his days tweeting and watching cable news and his weekends playing golf.
When pressed about his remarks, Kelly doubled down, saying, “Some of them just should have probably gotten off the couch and signed up.”
Given that the overwhelming majority of DREAMers are Mexican, Kelly's remarks aren't just intellectually lazy, but a lazy dog whistle about Latino immigrants in general. This tired trope is not only inaccurate — undocumented immigrants work hard and contribute to the U.S. — it is offensive. And, when taken in context with Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and his comments about immigrants from “shithole countries,” it is clear how little this administration values non-white migrants.
Plus, there is rich irony in Kelly deriding anyone as “lazy” when he works for the most incurious president in American history, a chief executive who spends his days tweeting and watching cable news and his weekends playing golf.
And if Kelly wants examples of true laziness, he need only look within the Trump administration: When Trump ended DACA in September, the Department of Homeland Security did not bother to notify recipients of the program’s demise. The Department of Justice has so far failed to cite a legal basis for ending DACA, other than Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ opinion that the program is unconstitutional. At a Senate Judiciary hearing last month, the current head of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen admitted she has never even met with a DREAMer.
Kelly’s remarks about the “lazy” DREAMers were insulting and indefensible. Instead of living up to stereotypes of generals as hard-working and no-nonsense, he has demonstrated that they are as capable of laziness and bigotry as anyone else.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. He has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Texas Monthly and NBC LATINO.