DISCLAIMER: The author of this piece is not a DACA recipient, nor have they ever been an undocumented immigrant. The author’s opinion come solely from working to understand the lives and experiences of protesters and community members that have been interviewed. We welcome any information and perspectives that will help further support the undocumented immigrants of the community. Further, the author fully respects any individual’s desire to self-identify using the word ‘DREAMer’.
On Tuesday, September 5th, thousands gathered across the United States to protest the most recent action carried out by the Trump administration: the end of DACA, also known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “rescinded” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, arguing that the policy, implemented by President Obama in 2012, was an “open-ended circumvention of immigration laws [,which] was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”
That same day, hundreds gathered at the Chicago Federal Central Plaza to stage a public protest against this decision. The protest was led by members of the community organization known as the “Protection For All Movement”.
Their goal was simple: protection for all.
The first demand of the organizers was for those in the crowd to put away and hide any posters that emphasized the word ‘DREAMer’.
One of the organizers stepped to the podium and repeated the request, adding, “We will not perpetuate the toxic ‘DREAMer’ narrative… We reject any attempt… to separate our communities. We deserve and demand protection for all.”
The notion of “protection for all” was one that did not focus solely on DACA recipients, but on the general immigrant community. It demanded that those who did not qualify for DACA – whether they be mothers, fathers, friends or neighbors – be recognized not for their ability to uphold the notion of a successful “American Dream”, but simply for their existence as members of the communities of the United States.
WHAT IS DACA
The DACA program gives undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16 a chance to stay in the U.S. to study or work; they must meet a certain set of conditions, such as being enrolled in high school and not having a serious criminal conviction. According to the PEW Research Center, those in the program are given a work permit and protection from deportation for two years. These benefits can be renewed. It is important to note that this program does not offer a path to citizenship, but simply the ability to gain legal status in the United States.
California alone has over 222,000 initial DACA recipients, the highest in the nation, followed by Texas (over 124,000) and Illinois (over 42,000). According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, young immigrants from Mexico account for the vast majority of DACA applications with over 618,000 applications approved to date; nearly 80% of initial and approved applicants have come from those with families who migrated from Mexico.
So what does the end of DACA mean? It means that Department of Homeland Security will stop accepting new applicants for the DACA program.Those working full-time jobs may lose their work permits and will have to leave their jobs if they want to comply with the law. College students will have to face the potential of losing their financial aid. It means that the lives of 800,000 people in the United States will be taken over by the fear of the ever-present threat of deportation – a threat many had hoped DACA could protect them from, even if only for a while.
WHERE DID THE ‘DREAM’ COME FROM?
Many people believe that DACA and the ‘DREAM Act’ are interchangeable legislation, when in fact they were proposed at very different times with very different intentions. In 2001, Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Howard Berman of California introduced a piece of proposed legislation named the ‘DREAM Act’, (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors). Through this program, young undocumented immigrants who had entered the United States with their parents would have an opportunity to obtain conditional U.S. citizenship. They would also have the opportunity to gain full citizenship upon completion of the process (which would also involve completing either two years of college or two years in the military). While the DACA program only provides a workers’ permit and a delay of deportation, the ‘DREAM Act’ would have given the community a path to residency and potential citizenship.
This act was never quite popular enough to get the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster in the Senate.
In an ironic fashion, the origins of the ’DREAMer’ narrative were born out of utter resistance to complicity and what one may call a politician’s nightmare – dedicated youth demanding a change for their community and willing to march 1500 miles to do it.
In January 2010, Felipe Matos and Gaby Pacheco, along with two fellow students on leave from Miami Dade College, began a four-month, 1,500-mile trek to the White House to urge the passing of the DREAM Act. Their trek was dubbed the ‘Trail of Dreams’, a representation of the students’ dream of a safe passage to citizenship and a brighter future.
Their goal was not met and the group did not meet with the President Obama as they had hoped to, yet many organizations and politicians across the nation became aware of their cause. In December 2010, the bill passed the House and got a majority of votes in the Senate, but still failed to clear 60. So, the bill was never put into action.
As a result of this proposal and the Trail of Dreams, however, the term ‘DREAMer’ gained great popularity. Soon, the undocumented youth – whether or not they were members of a particular immigration program – of the United States became painted as its forever innocent, overachieving, college-bound youth. In turn, the ‘DREAMers’ became and remains a staple in discussions of immigration policy reform.
To apply for DACA, applicants must meet the following qualifications:
- are under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012;
- came to the U.S. while under the age of 16;
- have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present;
- entered the U.S. without inspection or fell out of lawful visa status before June 15, 2012;
- were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
- are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces;
- have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind;
- do not pose a threat to national security or public safety
The rules and regulations behind the DACA application reinforce this ‘DREAMer’ narrative. It brings together, however, not only the direct connection between innocence and age, but innocence and good moral conduct. The requirements of the ‘DREAMer’ narrative allow policies and politicians to place the value of one’s humanity in a form of intellectual and monetary currency – making those of supposedly ‘lesser value’ deemed much more deportable.
THE CONTRADICTIONS BEHIND THE TERMINATION OF DACA
Political analysts and young undocumented immigrants alike have noted many contradictions in the reasoning behind the termination of DACA. One of these contradictions can be found in Trump’s initial statement regarding the end of the program, where he critiqued the current immigration policies of the United States, and by extension, the results of the DACA program.
He argued that “…the temporary implementation of DACA by the Obama Administration, after Congress repeatedly rejected this amnesty-first approach, also helped spur a humanitarian crisis — the massive surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America including, in some cases, young people who would become members of violent gangs throughout our country, such as MS-13.”
If one were to follow the path of the toxic ‘DREAMer’ narrative, then its seems contradictory to terminate of a program requiring its participants to “have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind” or those who “do not pose a threat to national security or public safety” as a solution to the national issues which Trump mentions. Further, the general criminalization of young migrants as those of violent tendencies and a risk to the supposed civil society of the United States is one which also perpetuates the narrative of of the ‘savage’ brown body. It is one which claims that the brown body, even in its innocent youth, inherently harbors a tendency to follow violence across borders.
Later in his speech, Trump discusses the failure of Washington, D.C. to enforce federal immigration law and argues that it has consequences of: “lower wages and higher unemployment for American workers”;“substantial burdens on local schools and hospitals, the illicit entry of dangerous drugs and criminal cartels…” and a green card system which “favors low-skilled immigration and puts immense strain on U.S. taxpayers.”
Yet, there is in fact very little evidence–if at all–that indicates that deporting immigrants, or DACA recipients specifically, would improve wages or increase the number of jobs.
Further, it appears that a simple Google search may shed some light on the much more complex relationship between Mexico, the United States, and drug cartels: and not one that might assume a one-directional relationship.
Finally, many people appear to be unaware that DACA recipients are in-fact taxpayers. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that DACA recipients have paid nearly $2 billion in state and local taxes. Despite being active taxpayers, they are not qualified to apply for government-provided health-insurance such as Obamacare. We can also look to the fact that there is a major flaw in the collection of taxes according to wealth and economic class; therefore, issues of tax evasion and tax avoidance extend beyond merely a discussion of the politics of immigration into the complex relations between corporations, the systems of capitalism, and political and financial corruption.
HOW WILL THIS CHANGE IN POLICY AFFECT THE HOMES OF DACA RECIPIENTS?
During the protest at the Chicago Federal Central Plaza on September 5th, 2017, I spoke to some of the attendees about their thoughts regarding the recent decision to end DACA and the effects that it will have in their lives. One young woman, Lucy, discussed the importance of acknowledging that these political decisions have social and emotional effects on the recipients of DACA as well as their families:
Tamara: “What does this program mean to you? Why are you here to defend it?”
Lucy: “… To let people know we are still gonna be here fighting for our rights,” Lucy explained. “That [Trump] cannot take DACA away from us because we work way too hard for what we have.” She tells me she is a current nursing graduate. “… Taking away DACA from me would mean I would only have a year to work and then it would all be gone. I don’t think that’s fair…”
T: “What does this change mean to your family?”
L: She shakes her head. “I came here when I was 5 and now I am 22. My father has worked day and night to give me what I have. Just what has gone on today… is just heartbreaking to my family and I.”
Lucy’s story is not unique. The end of DACA is more than just a drop in the ocean of the United State’s immigration reform policies or the rivalries between this administration and the last – it carries a tsunami effect on the lives of DACA recipients, their families, and their relatives. According to an analysis of 2009 to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data by the Migration Policy Institute, those who were DACA-eligible at the start of the program in 2012 had around 202,000 children. In a 2015 online survey, a quarter of DACA participants said they had a child who is a U.S. citizen. 60% said they had a sibling who was a U.S. citizen, and more than three-quarters of the respondents said they had a parent who was undocumented.
So what happens to these children when their parents have to face the threat of deportation? How do they handle the after-effects of immigration-related stresses, which have been linked to high rates of anxiety and greater food insecurity? What happens to the parents and siblings of DACA recipients when their children are not around to help perform family functions, such as driving them to doctor’s appointments or buying groceries?
THE TOXICITY OF THE ‘DREAMER’ NARRATIVE
Luis Gomez, a young college student, comes to stand at the podium next. He repeats a demand that a fellow organizer made before him: “Put the DREAMer posters down.” He explains that the DREAMer narrative is a toxic one, meant to transform young immigrants into machines, where their only function is funneling their time and money into education and taxes. He explains that it has turned the immigrant community against itself, criminalizing those who cannot live up to the high standards of the DREAMer narrative.
“Through the toxic DREAMer narrative, we have been painted as highly overachieving students whose achievements and awards validate our humanity…as if only those with the will and means to graduate are those who deserve the opportunity to thrive…we have been pinned against our own community members and family…” Gomez recounts.
The ‘DREAMer’ narrative creates a narrative of complicity, pushing youth to follow the rules, even when they appear unjust – even when they tear communities apart. Such a narrative enables politicians to divide immigrant communities and encourage increased deportation. Trump, when defending his decision to end DACA, argued, “I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”
Luis continued to argue that pursuing the ‘DREAMer’ narrative does not benefit DACA recipients simply because it does not guarantee them safety and security. According to Luis, as long as “brown looks criminal to them” – to those in power – then both those who fit the ‘DREAMer’ narrative and those who do not remain in danger.
The termination of DACA itself is proof of the flaws surrounding this idealistic ‘DREAMer’ narrative, Luis explains. “They said DACA was gonna keep us safe…but look where we are now…”