Coming Together for the DACAmented: Some of the Best Among Us

Reports say that the Trump administration will announce today that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA, will be ended after a six month time period in which congress may pass immigration legislation to protect DREAMers, immigrants who were brought to the US without documentation as children.

If this is the case, this move makes political sense for the Trump administration because it allows the president to take action on a campaign promise, while putting the onus on congress to come up with a permanent solution to the fate of the 800,000 young people who currently benefit from DACA. If congress can get this done, it gives the Republican party a chance to shift the current political narrative away from the most extreme fringes of their base and it gives Democrats a chance to make the temporary protections that Obama put into place permanent.

Speaking of permanence, I suspect that the goal will become the granting of legal permanent residency rather than citizenship. In recent years, “a path to citizenship” was a talking point of the Democratic Party, as their hope was to tap a base of new voters who might identify with the party in the White House that granted them citizenship, as some new citizens did after the 1986 immigration amnesty ushered in by Ronald Reagan. Although this time around, I think that may be a bridge too far for this administration. Plus, if you speak to those that are actually affected, most will tell you that their goal has always been to establish some degree of stability, like the kind that comes with a legal permanent status, rather than having citizenship as an ultimate goal.

I can hear the comments now from those that want DACA ended outright. Statements like “No Amnesty! They broke the law! These folks take advantage of the system!” among others not fit for print. In response I ask, do folks really know what DACA recipients go through to take part in the program? Are folks aware that DACA recipients are some of the most vetted community members in the US? They have all gone through extensive federal background checks.

Immigrant advocates from all over the US converged onto New Orleans in 2015 has the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments against Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration

Ironically these so-called “undocumented” people have had to document almost every aspect of their lives since arriving in the US, from the places they’ve lived to schools they’ve attended, and submit that documentation to get DACA. All of this to prove that they’ve stayed out of trouble with no criminal record and have pursued an education. They go through the process every two years, paying a sizable fee of $495, in addition to any attorney costs, for the right to obtain a work permit and pay payroll taxes into government programs from which they cannot benefit. It’s estimated that DACA recipients have paid some $25 billion into Social Security and Medicare. More so, they have showed that they have nothing to hide, and put their trust in authorities, by providing biometric data and their home address every time they renew. For those that say they are taking advantage of the system, if anything, the system has been taking advantage of the tax revenue that comes with their steadfastness in being upright community members. Perhaps a little statement about no taxation without representation rings a bell? Although DACA is in the news, I have yet to see an in-depth explanation of the above vetting by the news media. I hope that will change in the coming weeks.

My last point has to do with the character of DREAMers. In recent years the term grit has become a buzzword of sorts. I recall some Texas schools even built whole curricula around grit, defined as possessing courage, resolve and strength of character; all those things that make up the rugged, can-do attitude that is such a large part of the Texan cultural mythology, as our recent reaction to Hurricane Harvey has demonstrated. After all, by definition, DACA recipients didn’t choose to come to the US — no more than you yourself chose what part of the world you grew up in as a child. Many found themselves in strange new places, hearing a strange new language and they resolved to adapt and make it home. For those that were brought as babies or toddlers, this nation has always been home. Many of the most inspiring people I know are DREAMers. Folks that live and work around us every day and have overcome so much; beat the odds and although they find themselves in a current political culture that demonizes them, they still strive to be the best they can be. I admire them so much that early last year, I had the honor of marrying a DACA recipient. My respect and love for my wife is compounded by the fact that we are now expecting our first child in January — who shall be a fifth generation Houstonian. Yet our future as a family remains uncertain because of this announcement due to the fact that the process of changing one’s status, even after marriage to a US citizen, isn’t fast or inexpensive.

Today’s immigrants are no different from those of generations past. Then, just as now, eastern and southern Europeans, among others, were scapegoated by those that sought power and were seen as a threat to the character of this nation by those that feared change. Yet, it is those that have the grit to come here, overcome adversity to build a life on this land that keeps our nation great. It’s built into our collective history and lays the foundation for our future.

This latest turn with the DACA program may be politically expedient for the White House, putting the pressure on congress to do the heavy lifting. One thing is certain, no matter what our political affiliations may be, we owe it to the DREAMers to do some heavy lifting ourselves, by working together and getting engaged to come to a permanent solution and stop playing political games with DACA recipients’ lives. But don’t take my word for it. In the weeks ahead, I urge everyone to get to know a DACA recipient. Hear their stories and ask yourself, “Why wouldn’t I want this person as a neighbor in this can-do, diverse city that we all call home?”

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