Will There Not Be Amnesty?

From the mid-1960s to the 1980s, an estimated 36 million undocumented people entered the United States through Mexico. 86% of these entries were offset by departures, meaning that these were mostly men coming to work in the US then leaving to go back to their families. But when the US started ramping up border security in the early 1990s, many of these migrant workers decided the daily dangerous border crossings weren’t worth it. So they came to the US, often with their families and stayed. Shortly thereafter, President Bill Clinton signed a bill that made it extremely hard for them to obtain legal status. Thus naturally, those staying with families and making a life here began to skyrocket, many which had underage children. So these kids grew up in the US, were educated in the US, and integrated into American culture. By the time Barack Obama became president in 2008, many of these children were teenagers or young adults and still considered undocumented and thus, couldn’t drive, work, or in the US legally. Thus, these children who grew up in the US couldn’t make a life for themselves in the only country they knew. Many of these DREAMers didn’t achieve their academic or professional potential simply because they couldn’t see what good it would do them to succeed. Many of them “transitioned to illegality,” suffering mental health crises and often losing any desire to achieve in school because they realized the country they thought of as their own didn’t actually have opportunities for them

In June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama announced a policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to give legal status to undocumented children who were 16 or younger when they came to the US before June 2007. The program was designed for those who grew up as Americans and often discovered they weren’t citizens when they were getting ready to apply to college, find jobs, and figure out how to survive as an adult. Most of them haven’t lived even seen their home country since leaving for the US. As long as these undocumented youth stayed out of trouble and were enrolled in or graduated from school (or served in the military), then they qualified. This doesn’t mean everyone who qualified was approved. But for those who were, DACA not only protected them from deportation, opened the doors for things adults need to survive. Most recipients were able to get a driver’s license, a job, and attend college. Though many of them work in low-income jobs like food preparation, a good portion can leverage their work authorization and educational opportunities into white-collar jobs like sales or office administration. Other participants include college students, medical students, lawyers, and tech employees. As long as they reapply for DACA every two years, they can stay and work legally in the US. DACA doesn’t grant a pathway to citizenship nor offers permanent relief. But for these Dreamers, even a temporary reprieve is better than none. But it made these DREAMers feel American, welcomed, and normal. Today, there are about 1.9 million people potentially eligible for DACA and nearly 800,000 protected from deportation because of the program that has become a new embodiment for the American Dream.

On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Donald Trump would end DACA with a six-month delay. Those currently covered by the program will retain their protections and work permits until they expire. Those who already applied will have their applications processed normally. Yet, the government won’t accept any new applications unless their protections expire before March 5, 2018. Even in that case, they have until October 5 to renew. Unless Congress passes a bill in the next 6 months to protect the DACA recipients, hundreds of thousands of them will fall back on their unauthorized status.  But given that the Trump administration has taken steps to make the legal immigration process harder and more complicated, it’s highly unlikely Congress could pass an immigration bill that could satisfy 60 senators and the White House. In the meantime, it’s fairly clear the Trump administration doesn’t think Congress could pass a bill as DACA recipients live under crushing uncertainty. Besides, DACA’s critics claim the program is an example of presidential overreach that takes jobs away from citizens and legal residents. They warn that Trump will face massive opposition if he doesn’t keep his campaign promise to end it. And even if Trump granted DACA recipients a reprieve (which he won’t), the program may not survive a court challenge.

Without DACA, its recipients susceptible to deportation. It would mean that hundreds of thousands of people who’ve gone to work legally would suddenly become “illegal workers.” Some may have to drop out of college if they can’t retain their financial aid and perhaps not know what jobs they could get with the degrees they’re working to obtain. Others might have to give up a well-paying job for another paying under the table, sometimes not sure whether they’ll be paid. Or perhaps continue working at a legal risk to themselves and their employers. If their job includes health insurance, they will certainly lose that, too. It would raise questions on whether their drivers’ licenses issued under DACA that might’ve been valid when an immigrant started the engine but possibly invalidated while the car was on the road. Not to mention, it will open the federal government to a mess of lawsuits from suddenly legally liable employers. It gives them no rest that the federal government has their names and addresses. And the Trump administration seems to go after the undocumented immigrants they can most easily track down and pick up, putting the DREAMers at substantial risk for deportation. Though DACA recipients have months to prepare for that possibility, many of them have no good options.

To end DACA is a massive betrayal on the young Americans who grew up in the only country they know but won’t accept them as legal Americans through no fault of their own. Though to be fair, most undocumented immigrants came illegally because they had no legal options available. But these DACA recipients were brought here by their parents who just wanted a better life for them. They didn’t choose to come to this country. Some arrived as newborns and toddlers who didn’t even realize they had no legal status until they needed a Social Security number for a job or documentation to prove their eligibility for their first driver’s license. Others have known from a young age and have learned to live as quasi-fugitives afraid of being questioned by law enforcement. Yet, they’ve made their lives here. Their dreams are rooted here. They have jobs here. They pay taxes. They contribute to their families, communities, and the US economy. Some of them are married and have children. Some have served in the military. To make these Dreamers no longer welcome in the land they’ve called home for most of their lives is simply inhumane since they shouldn’t be forced to pay for their parents’ choices.

DACA may not be perfect, but there is no question it should remain. Doing away with the program will rob the US of high-achieving Americans who contribute to our economy and life. Not to mention, tear families apart and rip apart our nation’s moral fabric that make our country great. These DREAMers deserve to pursue their dreams and contribute to our society without living in constant fear of deportation and the lingering anxiety and uncertainty that everything they worked for could be taken away from them in the blink of an eye. Already DACA recipients have been living under threat of revocation since Donald Trump’s election on November. They’ve seen the Trump administration attempt to deport a few DACA recipients, supposedly protected. Now they have a deadline over which they have no control but which will profoundly affect the rest of their lives.

However, the worst about ending DACA isn’t just that it threatens 800,000 undocumented immigrants by removing their deportation protections and work permits. But that it threatens America’s legacy as a melting pot and a land of opportunity. And it sends a message that growing up in the US and having ties here means less than they ever have and the papers you hold or don’t have mean more. There’s never been a time when a generation of Americans, raised and rooted here has been stripped of official recognition and pushed back into the precarity of undocumented immigrant life. Though DACA didn’t technically legalize anyone, ending it would be the biggest “illegalization” of immigrants in American history. Sure it’s unprecedented for the government to offer protection to so many people without the opportunity to receive no full legal status. But it’s an effort of politicians trying to reconcile law and reality. Besides, growing up undocumented in the US is relatively uncommon in American history. Because while it was once possible to “get legal,” without leaving the US and trying to return (through US-born family members), it no longer is since 1976. To undo DACA will widen that gulf which has been wider than ever before. As the program hangs in the balance, the US has a group of people on the verge of being socially integrated and championed but legally isolated and victimized in a we we’ve never seen before. The days before Sessions’ announcement exemplify just how embedded these DACA recipients are in civil society. Universities, churches, employers, along with local and state governments urged Trump not to rescind the program. So did members of both parties, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan as well as Americans who don’t necessarily support widespread legalization for undocumented immigrants. In fact, 70% of Americans in an NBC News poll thought DACA should stay. But none of that mattered to Trump.

There is nothing to justify revoking protections for undocumented immigrants who came to this country through no fault of their own. None of these DACA recipients deserve to be deported from the only home they know, torn apart from their families, or robbed from the lives they’ve built for themselves. If anything, these DREAMers deserve amnesty and a path to legalization and citizenship. After all, they’ve lived and worked in the US for most of their lives without enjoying the same legal rights and privileges their peers have exercised. They see themselves as American and have contributed to our society as anyone else. They pose no threat and don’t take away anything from the rest of us. Yet, critics would decry such an idea as amnesty like it’s a moral anathema. But could there be any group of people in America more in need or deserving of amnesty? Shouldn’t these people be able to drive, work, go to college, and provide for their families without a constant fear it can all be taken away from them? Shouldn’t they be able to stay without a constant fear of deportation hanging over their shoulder? Shouldn’t they be seen as part of a nation where they were raised and rooted in? If not, then why should they be punished for the sins of their parents? Why should their lives be upended for simply being undocumented? Why should they be deported to a country they don’t know anymore? It’s bad enough for undocumented adults to live in precarity since they chose to come illegally because of unavailable legal options. But it’s particularly heartless to rescind protections from those whose undocumented status wasn’t of their own making. Most Americans agree they shouldn’t be robbed of the chance to live fully productive lives, especially if they’ve been upstanding figures who’ve earned every right to be here. To send them back to their birthplace they have no other connection to, is sheer cruelty that appeals to the worst part of who we are as Americans. Now that Congress only has 6 months to come up with an immigration reform bill, all I ask is will there not be amnesty for these DREAMers? Or will these 800,000 DACA recipients be forced to give up their hopes, dreams, and the only lives they’ve known for no good reason?

We need to understand that the Trump administration’s reason for DACA only amount to pure unbridled racism. They would tell you it’s about upholding “the rule of law” but such rationale is bullshit. First, Donald Trump pardoned ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was found guilty of criminal contempt for illegally targeting Latinos during his undocumented immigration raids. Second, the Obama administration had constitutional lawyers to advise them on the DACA policy. Third, white supremacists comprise a critical part of Trump’s political base whom he’s hesitated to condemn and noted how some of them were “fine people” during his infamous Phoenix rally in regards to Charlottesville. Then there’s his long history of racist behavior which includes housing discrimination, slamming Native American casino owners, calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, and promoting birtherism during the Obama administration. Ending DACA and threatening deportation to these DREAMers is cruel, shortsighted, and unnecessary as well as undermines the heart and soul of our nation. Yet, still, all I ask for these DREAMers is will there not be amnesty?

 

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