In Defense of DACA Parents
Consider every hand that has planted, picked, packed, shipped, prepared, served, and cleaned up after every meal you have ever consumed. From field to packaging to supermarket to restaurant to disposal, those hands belong to human beings who seek their own sustenance, belong to families, crave security, and harbor dreams.
Consider then how disproportionally this food chain is linked today to the most inexpensive and exploitable sources of labor. Consider whether you have ever consumed a meal untouched by any individual hired illegally. Consider whether most Americans, including the more vociferous critics of immigration, would agreeably pay twice as much to feed their own families if this food distribution system guaranteed fair and accurate market wages for U.S. born fieldworkers, cooks, dishwashers, and janitors. And should you assume such agreeability, consider then that 6 out of 10 Americans, all relying on cheap food subsidized by the corporate use of un-vetted labor, report having less than $500 in savings.
Given the interdependencies of this distribution system, consuming food produced by foreign-born or undocumented persons is not only inevitable it should be praiseworthy. Indeed, these hands should be mentioned every time people of faith say grace before a meal. Like ever generation before us, we necessarily live in communities alongside the people who produce our food. In nearly every civilized age, these neighbors were venerated for playing an essential role in our collective sustenance. But what distinguishes us now in 2018, what set us apart as a nation, is a growing, angry, ugly, and hypocritical disregard for the hands that feed us.
Today, as DACA faces an immediate and mortal threat, our political focus has been on a subset of undocumented people praised for their educational attainment and model behavior. This image of the DACA recipient breaks sharply from that of the quintessential American food worker, both past and present. And voices in Washington have grown conspicuously quiet and less sympathetic about the fate of a far more important group of immigrants to the American economy — the parents of DACA applicants.
Lacking any sense of decency, politicians in both parties have turned DACA into an emergency. Turning our back on these students would be tragic. And we must defend DACA urgently, demanding a clean Dream Act.
But let us never forget that DACA itself is discriminatory. It is founded on a lie slowly dividing our neighbors into categories of “good” or “bad” immigrants. When we privilege the upstanding behavior and academic accomplishments of DACA students over the remarkable achievements of food workers benefiting us all, we buy into this lie. When we tell our DACA students that they are more worthy of citizenship than their parents, we buy into this lie.
If you care about DACA students you will care about the impact this divisive message has on their families. If you care about DACA students you won’t perpetuate this myth tying their inclusion to a perfectly performed citizenship. If you care about DACA students you won’t place expectations on them we require of no native or naturalized citizen, including our president.
For at least a generation, the parents of DACA traveled hundreds of miles toward jobs that were promoted, endorsed, or at least widely accepted from Wall Street to Capitol Hill. Of course, many of the jobs employers were desperate to fill revolved around food. In the 1980s and 90s, employment opportunities flourished alongside a thriving economy, especially for the wealthy, as two decades of congresses engaged in empty deliberation, failing to pass even a modicum of comprehensive immigration reform. Instead elected officials repeatedly capitulated to consumer appetites, feeding an addiction to cheap food, expanding corporate influence, and convincing native born Americans that certain jobs are beneath us — namely in vocations serving the most basic human need to feed, clothe, heal, and shelter one another.
Instead of blaming three decades of failed leadership and economic self-interest, we are now scapegoating men and women who have lived here for decades, supported themselves, paid taxes, and raised families all while committing disproportionately fewer crimes and requiring far fewer social service expenditures than their native-born neighbors. Rather than push for comprehensive reform and rights for all who have helped kept our bellies full, we have become increasingly critical of “the immigrant lifestyle.” Inexplicably, political leaders now ignore our nation’s immigrant history, refusing to acknowledge within these lifestyle choices a story that should be both familiar and celebrated.
Nonetheless, we must defend DACA. We should do what is right for recipients who inspire possibility and embody something truly beautiful about our immigrant tradition. But let’s also remember that these young people are the offspring of human beings who, like so many of our ancestors, crossed borders and oceans to take a necessary place in the American economy. The parents of DACA deserve our compassion and legitimation.
We can start by offering praise for the food we eat, remembering the hands that prepared it. We can remind each other, in this moment of peak xenophobia, of America’s long and cherished immigrant history. We can demand fair immigration reform. We can advocate for a food economy built on living wages for individuals expected to participate in their own political economy. We can tell our DACA students that they don’t need to be perfect. And we can resist the ugly impulse to separate these “accomplished” young immigrants from the parents who made their story possible.