Dispatch — January 25, 2017, 8:00 am

Dream On

Being a DACA enrollee in Trump’s America

In June 2012, when the Obama Administration announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Greisa Martinez was selling used cars in Dallas, Texas. Martinez, who was undocumented, quickly signed up. Through the program, which provides legal protection to undocumented migrants who arrived in the United States as children, she was able to obtain a work permit for the first time. She quit her job at the car lot and eventually became the advocacy director for United We Dream, an organization led by undocumented youth. In the years since, her salary has risen by 70 percent and she has purchased her first home. “I’m living my wildest dream,” said Martinez, who is now twenty-eight years old. “It completely changed my life.”

In the past four years, nearly 750,000 undocumented migrants like Martinez have enrolled in DACA. According to a 2015 survey, their wages increased by an average of 45 percent, and 92 percent reported pursuing educational opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t. But under President Trump, they could lose their protected status. Because Obama created the program through an executive order, Trump could easily shutter it—something he repeatedly promised to do during his campaign. In December, he appeared to soften his tone toward undocumented youth, telling Time magazine, that he was “going to work something out” because “they got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here.” But Martinez is still nervous. “You just really don’t know where you’re going to end up,” she said.

Martinez and her family migrated from Hidalgo, Mexico, to Texas when she was only seven years old. Because Texas—along with about twenty other states—allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, Martinez was able, in 2006, to enroll at Texas A&M University, where she majored in political science. After graduating, she volunteered on congressional campaigns, hoping to get a job in politics. But without a work permit, she couldn’t find anyone who would hire her. “It wasn’t until I was eligible for DACA that I was able to use all of that experience and all of the knowledge,” she told me. After gaining DACA status several years ago, Martinez established good credit, moved to Washington, D.C., and landed her job at United We Dream. She now helps cover some of her mother’s health care costs and supports the education of her three younger sisters.

If Trump overturns DACA, people like Martinez could lose more than just their status or income. The program required applicants to provide a host of intimate, personal information, including their current and past addresses. If this data is handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, it could be used to track down and deport them or their loved ones. “The biggest threat for someone like me is not only completely upending the lives we’ve built over the last few years but what will happen to our families, what will happen to our parents,” said Martinez. “Did we ourselves give them up?”

There has been pushback in Congress. Earlier this month, members of both houses introduced bipartisan bills to protect DACA recipients from deportation. Meanwhile, John Kelly, the nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security, declined to say whether his department would use applicant data from the program to facilitate deportations. Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, said during his confirmation hearing that deporting enrollees would not likely be the administration’s top priority, but he also stated that, “the attorney general’s role is to enforce the law.” For the time being, United We Dream and other immigrant-rights groups are recommending that people who have not yet applied refrain from doing so, while encouraging those who are already enrolled to file for renewal, as the law requires them to do every two years.

Over the holidays, Martinez went through a “know your rights” training with her family, including instructing them not to open the door unless they know who’s there. She also spoke to one of her sisters about how their lives would change if they lost their work permits. “It’s been a lot of kitchen table conversations about what will happen,” she said. “There has also been silence. There’s this overwhelming fear about what it means, and sometimes families don’t have the right words or tools to be able to talk about it.”

Still, the family knows firsthand how much is at stake. In 2008, Martinez’s father was deported after he was pulled over for failing to make a full stop at a stop sign. “When I think about him, I feel a deep sense of sadness as well as some regret,” she said. DACA recipients can apply to travel outside the United States for humanitarian purposes, but only those facing exigent circumstances—like needing urgent medical care or wanting to attend the funeral of a close relative—are granted permission. Martinez applied a few weeks ago to see her dad, but she hasn’t heard back.

“The sweetest kind of success comes when you thought it was never going to happen to you,” said Martinez, reflecting on how DACA has improved her life. “The most bitter experience is to have it all and have it taken away from you.”

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On any given day last summer, the smoke-choked skies over Missoula, Montana, swarmed with an average of twenty-eight helicopters and eighteen fixed-wing craft, a blitz waged against Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge, and ninety-six other wildfires in the Lolo National Forest. On the ground, forty or fifty twenty-person handcrews were deployed, alongside hundreds of fire engines and bulldozers. In the battle against Rice Ridge alone, the Air Force, handcrews, loggers, dozers, parachutists, flacks, forecasters, and cooks amounted to some nine hundred people.

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Firefighters near Pedrógão Grande (detail) © Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
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How to Start a Nuclear War·

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Serving as a US Air Force launch control officer for intercontinental missiles in the early Seventies, First Lieutenant Bruce Blair figured out how to start a nuclear war and kill a few hundred million people. His unit, stationed in the vast missile fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, oversaw one of four squadrons of Minuteman II ­ICBMs, each missile topped by a W56 thermonuclear warhead with an explosive force of 1.2 megatons—eighty times that of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. In theory, the missiles could be fired only by order of the president of the United States, and required mutual cooperation by the two men on duty in each of the launch control centers, of which there were five for each squadron.

In fact, as Blair recounted to me recently, the system could be bypassed with remarkable ease. Safeguards made it difficult, though not impossible, for a two-man crew (of either captains or lieutenants, some straight out of college) in a single launch control center to fire a missile. But, said Blair, “it took only a small conspiracy”—of two people in two separate control centers—to launch the entire squadron of fifty missiles, “sixty megatons targeted at the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.” (The scheme would first necessitate the “disabling” of the conspirators’ silo crewmates, unless, of course, they, too, were complicit in the operation.) Working in conjunction, the plotters could “jury-rig the system” to send a “vote” by turning keys in their separate launch centers. The three other launch centers might see what was happening, but they would not be able to override the two votes, and the missiles would begin their firing sequence. Even more alarmingly, Blair discovered that if one of the plotters was posted at the particular launch control center in overall command of the squadron, they could together format and transmit a “valid and authentic launch order” for general nuclear war that would immediately launch the entire US strategic nuclear missile force, including a thousand Minuteman and fifty-four Titan missiles, without the possibility of recall. As he put it, “that would get everyone’s attention, for sure.” A more pacifically inclined conspiracy, on the other hand, could effectively disarm the strategic force by formatting and transmitting messages invalidating the presidential launch codes.

When he quit the Air Force in 1974, Blair was haunted by the power that had been within his grasp, andhe resolved to do something about it. But when he started lobbying his former superiors, he was met with indifference and even active hostility. “I got in a fair scrap with the Air Force over it,” he recalled. As Blair well knew, there was supposed to be a system already in place to prevent that type of unilateral launch. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon took comfort in this, not knowing that the Strategic Air Command, which then controlled the Air Force’s nuclear weapons, had quietly neutralized it.

This reluctance to implement an obviously desirable precaution might seem extraordinary, but it is explicable in light of the dominant theme in the military’s nuclear weapons culture: the strategy known as “launch under attack.” Theoretically, the president has the option of waiting through an attack before deciding how to respond. But in practice, the system of command and control has been organized so as to leave a president facing reports of incoming missiles with little option but to launch. In the words of Lee Butler, who commanded all US nuclear forces at the end of the Cold War, the system the military designed was “structured to drive the president invariably toward a decision to launch under attack” if he or she believes there is “incontrovertible proof that warheads actually are on the way.” Ensuring that all missiles and bombers would be en route before any enemy missiles actually landed meant that most of the targets in the strategic nuclear war plan would be destroyed—thereby justifying the purchase and deployment of the massive force required to execute such a strike.

Among students of nuclear command and control, this practice of precluding all options but the desired one is known as “jamming” the president. Blair’s irksome protests threatened to slow this process. When his pleas drew rejection from inside the system, he turned to Congress. Eventually the Air Force agreed to begin using “unlock codes”—codes transmitted at the time of the launch order by higher authority without which the crews could not fire—on the weapons in 1977. (Even then, the Navy held off safeguarding its submarine-launched nuclear missiles in this way for another twenty years.)

Following this small victory, Blair continued to probe the baroque architecture of nuclear command and control, and its extreme vulnerability to lethal mishap. In the early Eighties, while working with a top-secret clearance for the Office of Technology Assessment, he prepared a detailed report on such shortcomings. The Pentagon promptly classified it as SIOP-ESI—a level higher than top secret. (SIOP stands for Single Integrated Operational Plan, the US plan for conducting a nuclear war. ESI stands for Extremely Sensitive Information.) Hidden away in the Pentagon, the report was withheld from both relevant senior civilian officials and the very congressional committees that had commissioned it in the first place.

From positions in Washington’s national security think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, Blair used his expertise and scholarly approach to gain access to knowledgeable insiders at the highest ranks, even in Moscow. On visits to the Russian capital during the halcyon years between the Cold War’s end and the renewal of tensions in the twenty-first century, he learned that the Soviet Union had actually developed a “dead hand” in ultimate control of their strategic nuclear arsenal. If sensors detected signs of an enemy nuclear attack, the USSR’s entire missile force would immediately launch with a minimum of human intervention—in effect, the doomsday weapon that ends the world in Dr. Strangelove.

Needless to say, this was a tightly held arrangement, known only to a select few in Moscow. Similarly chilling secrets, Blair continued to learn, lurked in the bowels of the US system, often unknown to the civilian leadership that supposedly directed it. In 1998, for example, on a visit to the headquarters of Strategic Command (­STRATCOM), the force controlling all US strategic nuclear weapons, at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, he discovered that the ­­­STRATCOM targeting staff had unilaterally chosen to interpret a presidential order on nuclear targeting in such a way as to reinsert China into the ­SIOP, from which it had been removed in 1982, thereby provisionally consigning a billion Chinese to nuclear immolation. Shortly thereafter, he informed a senior White House official, whose reaction Blair recalled as “surprised” and “befuddled.”

In 2006, Blair founded Global Zero, an organization dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons, with an immediate goal of ending the policy of launch under attack. By that time, the Cold War that had generated the ­SIOP and all those nuclear weapons had long since come to an end. As a result, part of the nuclear war machine had been dismantled—warhead numbers were reduced, bombers taken off alert, weapons withdrawn from Europe. But at its heart, the system continued unchanged, officially ever alert and smooth running, poised to dispatch hundreds of precisely targeted weapons, but only on receipt of an order from the commander in chief.

Bombhead, by Bruce Conner (detail) © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco, and ARS, New York City. Courtesy Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles

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