Protecting DACA and Our Dreams

September 1, 2017 I. India Thusi

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

I’m thankful that I can now walk around my neighborhood without fearing that, at any moment, I will be deported to a country I don’t know. I was black and undocumented for much of my childhood, and there was a constant cloud of uncertainty that surrounded my very being. I didn’t even know of my undocumented status until I was a teen, but there was a sense of precarity throughout my childhood as I heard warnings about being careful because I never knew when and if “they” would come for me.

Photo of protestors at a Save DACA rally. One with a sign that reads DACA = Lives.

I’m thankful that I am now a naturalized citizen. I’ve been able to devote my career to promoting social justice, protecting human rights in the everyday lives of the marginalized, and advancing approaches to government accountability that promote better policing practices and foster autonomy. I’ve been able to spend my working life partnering with people who also live a precarious existence.

But there are many young people in the United States who are not as fortunate as I am. They remain undocumented and are unable to be a full part of the promise of hope and liberty that this country represents. President Obama initiated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 to help some of these young people remain here without the constant fear of deportation. Many of these children have been able to finish school, obtain graduate degrees, and become workers in our communities. They are a part of the social fabric of our country, and we call them the Dreamers because they represent the hope and possibility inherent in the notion of the “American Dream.”

Unfortunately, President Trump is threatening to eliminate this program. His impulse to do so is in line with all that his presidency and political campaign have represented. He is fueled by hate and fear, which is often directed toward people of color, immigrants, women, and others, and he is committed to furthering an agenda rooted in promoting white supremacy and patriarchy on a systemic level.

President Trump has adopted “law and order” language to advance an agenda that aims to expand criminalization and deportations and promote white supremacy. He has made blanket statements about the criminality of immigrants, which are false. He has supported making the very act of immigration criminal to justify the harsh treatment he would like immigrants to receive. He wants to spend millions on a wall at the border as a symbolic reminder of his commitment to national isolation. He made baseless claims about President Obama’s citizenship, feeding into the spirit of racist Birthers who questioned the legitimacy of a black presidency. And now he proposes putting 800,000 young people who have grown up in the United States, have families in the United States, are part of the culture of the United States, to spend their days worrying about his expanding deportation forces. Any student of his biography would be far from surprised by Trump’s reluctance to condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, VA. It is part and parcel of who he is and has been.

While Trump remains in office, advocates and activists should build alliances with others who are threatened by his white supremacist agenda. Building on messages that move away from the good immigrant/bad immigrant narrative is one way of ensuring that all immigrants are able to thrive despite Trump’s racist policies. Strengthening the connections between black, brown, Native American, immigrant, women, LGBTQ, and disability groups that are all threatened by his agenda, and developing a shared narrative that emphasizes the importance of the collective will also be useful.

There are  promising laws that provide a more sustainable solution for Dreamers, including the American Hope Act of 2017, H.R.3591, and the Dream Act of 2017, S.1615. We should call on our federal legislators to pass these laws and demand that Congress act to address any changes Trump might make to DACA. The struggle for equal justice is not easy. Protecting the DACA program is the true reflection of what we stand for as a country, and we must insist that our federal government protects all of us.