Confessions of a Middling Migrant

On April 18th, 2016, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Texas, a case spurred by President Obama’s recent executive actions regarding illegal immigrants. The nation is still struggling to figure out if certain illegal immigrants can be considered “good,” and thus provided work authorization and relief from deportation. As a DACA beneficiary, I have a stake in the SCOTUS’ decision as well as the next President’s use of the personal information that I and 800,000 others have forked over to the government.

I’ve witnessed national debates about my right to live and work in the U.S. too many times. I was there when the DREAM Act was filibustered by Republicans in 2010. I was there when “border security” became an excuse to procrastinate on comprehensive immigration reform. I was there when President Obama finally gave me work authorization and a social security number only to backhand my parents in the process.

If young people came here “through no fault of their own,” then whose fault was it? Denham and Obama both say, “by their parents [and guardians].” — David Bacon

Maybe I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds me. My mom is certainly fine with the small expense to her pride if it secures a better future for her son. But as an unapologetic momma’s boy, some of the language used by pro-immigrant political actors rubs me the wrong way, especially when they pave the way for unfortunate implications. For instance, Senators Harry Reid and Dick Durbin have a history of championing the DREAM Act by showcasing the all-stars of undocumented youth.

They are honor roll students, star athletes, talented artists and valedictorians. These children are tomorrow’s doctors, nurses, teachers, policemen, firefighters, soldiers, and senators, and we should give them the opportunity to reach their full potential.” —Senator Dick Durbin

I understand that we have to put our best face forward to achieve our political goals. I have enormous respect for the outstanding undocumented youth whose stories make it to the Senate floor. However, creating a class of “deserving” immigrants also creates a class of “undeserving” ones.

When immigration discourse revolves around “good immigrants” (DREAMers, legal immigrants) & “bad immigrants” (e.g. Trump’s Presidential announcement speech), it doesn’t leave much room to address those caught in between.

What happens when the lines between “good immigrant” and “bad immigrant” are blurred? What if we’re eligible for DACA but got busted for possessing marijuana? What if we’ve been victims of Arizona’s draconian racial profiling law? What if we’re detained and milked for every last ounce of labor before we’re kicked out? What if we have an arrest record because we exercised civil disobedience? What if our background is squeaky-clean but we dropped out of high school? What if we’re none of the above? What if we’re not exceptional wunderkinds or flagrant criminals but — dare I say it —

Mediocre?

Let’s face it. I’m a middling migrant. I have more failing grades than I’d like tainting my academic history. I’ve been working on my 4-year degree for nearly 9 years. I’m pursuing a career in animation (a.k.a. not STEM). With regards to immigration issues, I’m an internet slacktivist at best. Congress won’t be sharing my story anytime soon. And yet somehow, by throwing $465 at the government every few years, I’ve managed to squirm my way into the “good immigrant” camp. I have work authorization only because I can afford it and because I’ve never met a cop with a chip on their shoulder (yet).

I don’t believe in “trickle-down citizenship”. I don’t automatically get first dibs on piecemeal immigration reform just because my parents were willing to financially support me through college. Many undocumented immigrants can’t say the same.

Rejecting the “good immigrant/bad immigrant” binary means a rejection of respectability politics. If being a valedictorian/honor roll student/Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist isn’t good enough to secure a pathway to citizenship, then I think it’s time to rethink who deserves to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Much like Jose Vargas, I’m Filipino, gay, and undocumented. I’m basically his less-accomplished clone.

We implicitly understand that native-born American citizens can fall anywhere within the achievement spectrum. If we already believe that mediocrity and/or income does not detract from a citizen’s… citizenship, then why are the standards much higher for immigrants (i.e. prospective citizens)? Is it because we were born outside the U.S?

Fun fact: my mom was touring the U.S. while she was pregnant with me. She ultimately decided to give birth back on Philippine soil.

I probably should have kicked harder.