Indeed, Obama gets it right: the dreamers are not Americans “on paper,” and so in that one profoundly critical way they are not Americans at all. That was the point of DACA in the first place: to offer deferred deportation to non-Americans. Natural-born and naturalized citizens of the United States were not the ones who took advantage of Obama’s executive order: it was illegal immigrants, non-citizens, that did so. It is not Trump who “defined them by their immigration status.” It was Obama.
It is grating to have to point this out, though the deficiencies of our immigration debate tend to make it necessary to do so. We are, after all, a nation; as a nation we are composed primarily of a body politic made up of citizens. There are a great many among us who desire, in various incoherent ways, to do away with such distinctions—people who believe that simply arriving here, through whatever means, should qualify one for citizenship. Such a policy would essentially do away with the idea of citizenship altogether, rendering our country’s immigration policy to be the legislative equivalent of John Lennon’s turgid “Imagine.”