I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Dreamers, the 800,000 undocumented young adults who have lived nearly all of their lives in the United States. In any just society, these young people, who were brought into the United States by their parents while minors, should not be held responsible for the actions of their parents or the gridlock of our political system over immigration policy. Sending them “home” to countries most of them don’t even remember is cruel and unusual punishment. For most of them, the United States is the only home and culture they’ve known. No ethical person, regardless of their position on immigration, can justify their deportation.
However, I am not a fan of DACA.
Even President Obama, in establishing the DACA program, admitted it was a stop gap measure designed to clarify the legal status of the approximately 65,000 undocumented young people graduating from US high schools every year. While DACA made it possible for these young people to obtain a driver’s license, attend college and find employment, it actually created an unsustainable and unjust status for these young people. Mr. Trump was right to suggest that Congress should come to some bipartisan agreement on their status.
Consider the Faustian bargain offered to DACA participants. They were allowed to remain in their homeland as long as they accepted a diminished and unequal status. They can work and pay taxes, but are denied many services. They must pay into social security though they are denied access to its benefits. They can attend college, but must pay a higher tuition without any loans or assistance. They can live in US, but they cannot vote. They can only leave the US with permission. If they are arrested, they can be denied due process and immediately deported. Every two years, they must pay $500 to renew their participation in this charade.
This is what we have offered these young people who’ve attended our elementary schools, who’ve graduated from our high schools with honors, who’ve excelled on our sports teams, who’ve entered our armed forces, who’ve worked in our companies and who’ve fully assimilated into our culture. While many of them seem genuinely appreciative of the DACA program, they shouldn’t be. It is not just or fair to punish them for the crimes of their parents. They deserve much better.
Those who want to send them away make Uncle Sam into a father who refuses to acknowledge his illegitimate children. The illegitimacy does not reside in the children, but in circumstances beyond their control. Only the conditions of their birth are questionable. In every other way, they are legitimately American. Indeed, they fit the conservative litmus test for a “good” immigrant. All of them speak English. Most have little or no allegiance to their country of birth. They are fully committed to our values. They understand themselves as Americans.
Though most conservatives will not admit it, their chief flaw is the color of their skin. They are not white. It is this, though it is seldom acknowledged, that makes them so frightening to those who would have them deported. They threaten white supremacy and must be racially profiled and demonized. Fortunately, while Trump and his administration have tried to justify rejecting immigrants of color as being dangerous and criminal, the DACA participants stand as 800,000 counter arguments to that racist rhetoric. We call them dreamers because they so perfectly exemplify the American dream of taking advantage of this land of freedom and opportunity. Rejecting them makes a mockery of our cultural myths and values.
Those of us protesting the termination of the DACA program need to be very careful. In opposing this action by the Trump administration, we need to oppose the injustice of their status and not defend the legitimacy of the program. The goal of our efforts should not be the restoration of the DACA program, but the creation of a path to citizenship for these young people. Anything short of this could inadvertently create the foundations for an American apartheid, where a whole class of people is given a permanent second class status.
The United States will continue to debate our immigration policy and process. We can disagree about how to best guard our borders. We can design better ways of meeting our economic needs without encouraging undocumented workers. These are all valid and important discussions. What we cannot do is punish these children for our own ambiguity. If our elected representatives in Congress refuse to protect the Dreamers, they have no real commitment in the American dream.