In Defense of DACA Parents

Take a moment to consider every hand that has planted, picked, packed, shipped, prepared, served, and cleaned up after nearly every meal you have consumed, from supermarket to restaurant, throughout your life. Each of these hands belongs to a human being who, like you, has a family, suffers setbacks, and harbors greater dreams.

Consider how disproportionally this food chain draws from the most inexpensive and exploitable source of labor. Consider whether you have ever consumed a full meal untouched by individuals hired illegally, un-vetted by corporations or their complicit contractors. Consider whether you would or could pay more for your dinner if it guaranteed accurate market wages for fieldworkers, cooks, dishwashers, and janitors born in the U.S. (And if you boldly answered “yes,” consider that 6 out of 10 Americans, all relying on cheap food to feed their own families, report having less than $500 in savings to address an unexpected need).

In this system, consuming food produced by foreign-born and often undocumented persons is not only inevitable it is praiseworthy. It should actually be mentioned every time we say grace before a meal. Like every person in human history we necessarily live in communities alongside the people who produce our food. In almost every age, these neighbors were venerated for their essential role in our collective sustenance. What distinguishes us now, what set us apart as a people, is only this growing, angry, ugly, and hypocritical disregard for the hands that feed us.

At a time when DACA faces moral threat, repeating this narrative of the American immigrant tradition is more necessary than ever. It is a story that breaks sharply from the distinctly sympathetic arguments used to defend DACA today.

DACA is an emergency. Turning our back on our students would be tragic. And we must defend DACA urgently.

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 along with expectations we require of no native or naturalized citizen.

The parents of DACA traveled hundreds of miles toward jobs that were systemically offered, endorsed, and encouraged by the most powerful political and economic forces in the U.S. These opportunities flourished through more than a dozen sessions of Congress, three decades of empty deliberation, producing only half-hearted attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Our congresses never got close. Instead elected officials repeatedly capitulated to forces, including our own consumer appetites, that feed an addiction to cheap food, make corporations rich, and convince native born Americans that immigrant jobs are beneath us.

Instead of blaming our leaders, we are scapegoating men and women who have lived here for decades, raised families, paid taxes, committed disproportionately fewer crimes, and required far less from the social safety net than the average American. Rather than push for comprehensive reform and rights for all who have helped kept our bellies full, we blindly criticize the immigrant lifestyle. We ignore the fact that these lifestyle choices have generally mirrored every other immigrant group to come to this land.

Defend DACA students. But show some love to their parents too. Offer praise for the food you eat. Demand fair immigration reform. And in this time of peak xenophobia, resist any impulse to separate our youngest and most “accomplished” immigrants from the parents that made their story possible.