By Selene Sandoval*
Since the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program affecting nearly 800,000 undocumented young (im)migrants, the backlash of many devastated by this decision continues to wage on with political and social action. The DACA program was first introduced by the Obama administration around 5 years ago to allow children of immigrants who were brought to the United States at a young age relief from deportation and a visa to work. The turbulent time period from the initial announcement from the Trump administration to rescind the program that protected thousands of undocumented students, is finally being taken to the Supreme Court. In the words of poet Langston Hughes- “what happens to a dream deferred?”
The protests that have taken place nationwide with powerful slogans such as “education not deportation” have symbolized the spirit of the original American dream, and how people across the states are standing with these DACA recipients and not letting their fates fall into the hands of the hegemonic current administration. An administration who seem to be adamant on reversing the programs established during Obama’s presidency. Since it was first announced that the program would be retracted, the public was encouraged to send texts and make calls to their local lawmakers in solidarity and resistance. In terms of public outcry, demonstrations have already lead to the arrest of countless amount of protesters. These protesters feel it is their “moral responsibility” as Walter Johnson a Harvard professor stated, when dozens of professors were arrested in September. Since it first surfaced that DACA was set to be canceled, protesters have risked their own freedom in civil disobedience to stand up to the injustice of a repeal that would jeopardize the lives of more than just the ‘daca-mented’ youth. The complete cease of DACA will ripple throughout communities and families.
The original dream of the (im)migrants who came to the United States and brought their children was to create a better life than the one they had in their own countries. The epitome of the American dream as imagined by James Truslow Adams in his book the Epic of America (1931) is “a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” Adams is attributed to coining the term the “American Dream” and the United States has a deeply rooted history of being founded by immigrants. However, marginalized individuals within the United States share a different narrative of the attainment of this dream.
The “DREAM” movement for immigration reform began with the nine young activists in July 22nd of 2013, wore caps and gowns as they tried to reenter the United States after seeing grandparents and family members they hadn’t seen since when they had first arrived to the United States. In Latinx culture this is manifested as familismo, which is the cultural value that is a deep attachment to nuclear and extended families. The caps and gowns that the DREAM 9 wore in their grassroots movement represented the outstanding adversaries that undocumented students have to face in education, in a time where the country has been polarized over a comprehensive plan for immigration reform. The people eligible for DACA at the time that it was first introduced in June 2012 had to meet a certain amount of criteria, such as being in the United States for 5 consecutive years and not holding a criminal record as this could disqualify them from the program. Those eligible for DACA also had to be enrolled in school, or hold a high school diploma or equivalent.
Under DACA, the type of liberties that the applicants under this program were able to do was to work, and obtain a driver’s license while also protecting people from deportation. For some of the undocumented youth living in the United States, some of them weren’t even aware of their status until attempting to apply to universities or trying to apply to jobs. Some of the effects of this program can’t even be quantified, but some research from the Center of American Progress by Tom K. Wong of UC San Diego has studied the upward mobility of dacamented youth. The research shows that 80% of annual earnings increase for those under DACA equating to an average of $20,000 to one of $36,000. In the same studies they found that 16% bought homes, and 65% had bought their first automobile. This immigration program made specifically for people who had arrived before the age of 16, and were enrolled in high school or had a high school equivalent diploma, was later met with opposition. The opposition to this immigration program began during the Obama administration, but legislation against DREAMers has been going on for about 15 years.
The Dream Act is a bill passed in August of 2001, known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien minors act. The bill was passed as a multi-phase process that would lead to the legalization of 11 million (im)migrants in the United States. However, during the George Bush Era, it couldn’t break 60 votes in the Senate with Democrats and Republicans divided on immigration reform. Today, the amnesty being proposed is for a ‘Clean Dream Act’ in hopes of reaching a bipartisan solution for the 2.1 million (im)migrant youth and adults that came to the U.S. at a young age. The proposed bill would qualify those who entered the U.S. before 18 conditional residence status, lawful permanent status after 8 years, and after these 8 years would be eligible for citizenship after 5 years (with a faster track to citizenship for DACA recipients). The Clean Dream Act hopes to create a path to citizenship, immigration reform without using young (im)migrants as bargaining chips that can harm communities. After the rescind of DACA, Trump called on Congress a couple of months to provide a permanent fix. As the year comes to a close, Democrats feel they have run out of time for this act to be included in the spending bill. Waiting until March does not seem a feasible option for some economists, who estimate detrimental effects to the U.S. economy with enormous job losses estimated at around 30,000 per month (ThinkProgess). The numbers cultivated of the economic impact are an estimated $460 billion in gross domestic products that these DACA recipients can generate.
For now, this decision has disheartened many feeling that it will affect the political, social, and economic sphere of the United States and potentially risk the livelihoods of millions of (im)migrants.
About the author:
*Selene Sandoval, First-generation Mexican American graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara.
This article was published at Modern Diplomacy