Standing with DREAMers

By Guy Johnson, Sr. Program Director | Partners for Each and Every Child

It is almost beside the point that Alonso Guillen, who died while trying to save others from the merciless flood waters in Houston, was a DACA recipient. It is almost beside the point that young, formerly DACA-eligible undocumented students and their families in Texas, still taking stock of their losses in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, will have to weigh the possibility of their immediate removal from the United States when deciding whether to talk with police, firefighters, and other public officials. Perhaps the essential brutality of President Trump’s plan to end the DACA program in six months will become clearer as potential DREAMers—faced with the impact and consequences of Hurricane Irma—are forced to make consequential choices between safety and the possibility of deportation.

An examination of how local communities are preparing to adjust to last week’s announcement lays bare the sclerotic heart of the President’s DACA decision. Because of the very real threat of deportation that was delivered to these students and their families by the President, advocates and others are advising undocumented students, including DACA recipients, to begin making plans for the very real possibility of their detention and removal. Remember that the essential agreement behind DACA was that DREAMers would willingly give their vital personal information to the federal government in exchange for their safety from federal immigration enforcers. These officials could soon have this information in their hands if they choose to pursue DACA students with the intention of deporting them to foreign countries they have never truly known.

Last week’s decision, lightly painted in a cheap patina of respect for the “rule of law,” puts thousands of immigrant students and teachers squarely in the crosshairs of the federal government, threatening young people who are bettering themselves and their communities. We do not have to search very far back in American history for numerous examples of use of the “rule of law” to justify the disenfranchisement, the dispossession, the marginalization, and the removal of low-income communities of color. The vast majority of DACA students have committed no crime other than having been born in a foreign country and then brought as children into the United States by their undocumented immigrant family members.

The number frequently cited by the press—800,000 registered DREAMers—does not include the children that have been born to DACA recipients, the families in this country that rely on them for financial and emotional sustenance, the friendships and interdependencies that have formed around their participation in our civic society. The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are approximately two million DACA-eligible individuals in the United States. Teach for America (TFA) estimates the 190 DACA-recipient teachers and alumni in the TFA program are reaching 10,000 students across eleven states.

The Administration’s decision on DACA is illogical on its face, irresponsible public policy, and a thinly veiled attempt to politically cater to a small, entrenched minority of the American electorate that is—has been and will be—viscerally opposed to equity. Rejecting the contributions of DREAMers is no way to develop or maintain a governing majority, and it serves no one to force DACA recipients to choose between their health and livelihood and their ability to remain in the country.

As the Administration’s actions last week rejected DACA recipients in favor of a very small minority of the electorate, so too do we reject the Administration's position.

Congress, the Presidential administration, and the federal administrative bureaucracy have a great deal of work to do together (and quickly) to address the uncertainty and peril faced by undocumented students in our country. Still, bipartisan federal policy change is a beginning, and not an end goal. Action from the nation’s capital is much more likely to establish a minimum basis of protection and entitlement than to address the full range of challenges faced by undocumented students. For this reason, state-based and local governmental actors, as well as community-based non-profit organizations must collaborate to meet the practical, everyday needs of these students. This timely collaboration is critically important for the functioning of our civil society, and justified by considerations moral, practical, legal, and economic. We have our work cut out for us.