Originally publihsed by The Hill
NAACP President Derrick Johnson sees some of the Trump administration’s actions on race and citizenship as reminiscent of the U.S. before the Civil War.
In an interview with The Hill, Johnson likened President Trump’s efforts to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857 that ruled Black Americans were not citizens.
“There was a decision ... called the Dred Scott decision. And it was in that decision where the Supreme Court held that Blacks had no rights that whites were bound to uphold,” Johnson said on Wednesday. “We’ve seen this administration’s reversal of [DACA] in that same light.”
The stinging criticism comes amid a raging national debate over the treatment of minorities, particularly Black Americans, by law enforcement. It also follows a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court last week saying the Trump administration did not follow proper administrative procedure in its attempted reversal of the Obama-era program.
The NAACP was among the litigants who successfully convinced the Supreme Court to rule against Trump. Its decision to defend DACA, Johnson said, came in part because of the organization’s traditional role of being a voice for Black communities, including immigrants.
“DACA, oftentimes people seem to think of the Latinx community, when in fact it was far more reaching than that,” Johnson said.
“We have individuals who are members of the NAACP or among the Black communities who also would also have been impacted. Those individuals are from the Caribbean nations, some [from the] African continent who are here. Whether you’re from Jamaica or South Africa or Ghana, that’s also a part of the Black community, and has always been,” he added.
Nearly 700,000 so-called Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors — are protected by DACA, which grants them deferral from deportation and a work permit.
A majority of DACA beneficiaries were born in Mexico, but thousands come from countries with substantial Black populations.
But the NAACP also took a broader view by fighting Trump’s rescission of DACA in the name of beneficiaries who had entrusted the U.S. government with their personal information but could soon lose rights promised to them by the state.
“Any time you have a set of individuals who rely on a commitment from our government and based on that reliance, they execute as expected — in this case filling out the proper forms to be covered under DACA — and this country reneges on that commitment, that is a bad state action that could impact any of us at any given time,” said Johnson.
DACA benefits are granted in renewable two-year increments by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to eligible undocumented immigrants in a specific age group who fill out the necessary documentation, pay a fee and pass a background check.
An initial obstacle to DACA implementation was the question of whether undocumented individuals would entrust their personal and biometric information to a government that could later use that information to deport them.
Although the information was statutorily shielded from immigration enforcement, Johnson said Trump’s order to rescind DACA amounted to a betrayal of the trust beneficiaries had placed in the government.
“In this case, we were withdrawing the social contract with a classification of individuals who relied on a commitment — we should never do that as a nation,” he said.
While the NAACP and its co-litigants prevailed at the Supreme Court, last week’s decision left the door open for DHS to review its administrative procedure and issue a new rescission of the program.
Johnson labeled as demagoguery Trump’s decision to go after DACA — a program viewed positively by about three quarters of Americans but intensely disliked by Trump’s base.
“We felt that the position this administration was taking was more in line with what a demagogue would do to rally a base, to divide the country, as opposed to what leaders do to unite the country and move forward, seeking solutions to problems,” said Johnson.
He also drew parallels between Trump and former President Woodrow Wilson, whose promotion of the racist film “Birth of a Nation” was seen as spurring the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century.
“He’s operating from a space of creating a divisive tone, allowing for levels of racism to germinate from the White House. He’s created tribalism, and the way in which this nation has not seen in recent history,” Johnson said. “I am really hard pressed to identify ... a worse president, as it relates to bringing this nation together, as opposed to dividing this nation. The only president that I can think of — clearly, there are a few — but particularly him, is Woodrow Wilson when he validated the film ‘Birth of a Nation,’ creating a level of divisiveness in this country, causing the spread of the KKK.”
But Johnson said that with Election Day approaching, Trump’s leadership on race and immigration are now front and center on the ballot.
“I think the next step forward is those who support the proposition that a social contract with the citizen is something that should be respected — we will hear their voices in November,” Johnson said.
“It should never be put into a partisan posture. It should always be viewed from: Is this a part of the broader integrity of who we are as a country? And that question will be on the ballot in November,” he added.