“Too lazy”? Five Reasons Why Kelly’s Comments on DACA Are Wrong

By Maria Ibarra-Frayre and William Lopez

On Friday, January 26th, President Trump proposed a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented community members, a total that amounts to roughly three times the number of immigrants who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). When his Chief of Staff, John Kelly, attempted to explain the difference in figures, he stated that “The difference between 690,0000 DACA recipients and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses…”

We join a growing chorus of advocates to voice our utter disdain for Kelly’s belittling remarks, and offer five other points to think consider when assessing Kelly’s comments:

  1. Yes, John Kelly, people are afraid. And that’s okay. First and foremost, it’s important to affirm that it’s okay to be scared. It makes sense to be scared, after all, when a billion dollar deportation industry is targeting you and your family for removal. Yes, despite the refrain of “Undocumented Unafraid” the threat of deportation is still incredibly frightening. HOWEVER, you are no less deserving of legal status simply because you’re afraid. It’s also important to examine the possible sources of this fear. When you apply for DACA, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires you to turn over personal information — including information about your immigration history. This means you are giving USCIS your current address, all addresses from the past five years, the length of time you have been in the U.S., and how much money you make, as well as submitting to a criminal background check. If you are renewing your DACA application, you are also required to share your social security number. Applying for DACA requires you to share your information with the very people who have been targeting you for your entire life, and who, even after you apply, will continue to target your family and community. The fear is legitimate, and it does not stem from personal weakness, but from a life of marginalization.
  2. Perhaps people didn’t apply for DACA because applying for DACA is ridiculously expensive. To be exact, applying for DACA costs $495 every two years. This sum does not take into account the cost of lawyers, collecting additional documentation, shipping that documentation, and finding transportation to get yourself fingerprinted every time you need to renew your application.
  3. Applying to DACA — while it’s future remains uncertain — can take a large emotional and psychological toll on applicants. DACA has had a tumultuous first year under President Trump. First, Trump promised to terminate DACA in August of 2016. In November of the same year, he emphasized that he was “proud” of “Dreamers” before he went on to rescind DACA in September of 2017. Then in January of this year, a judge countered the rescinding of DACA and ordered that DACA renewals be continued, which Trump later said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (here’s a handy DACA timeline). Imagine each night going to bed not sure if your protection from deportation, your work permit, and your driver’s license would exist the following morning. The emotional toll of this insecurity has real effects on mental and physical health of DACAmented community members. In fact, one study shows that undocumented youth with DACA have higher stress levels than undocumented youth without DACA. For many people, it’s just not worth it.
  4. DACA criteria is exclusionary. Applying for DACA requires a high school diploma and/or GED, along with detailed proof of residency in the U.S. This is a clear example of the criminalization of low-income and low educational attainment. Many undocumented families come to the U.S. solely to work, many are not allowed the privilege of staying in school. Although the typical DACA recipient came to the U.S. at the age of 6, we cannot assume that all undocumented youth had the privilege to enroll in and graduate high school. Many undocumented youth drop out because they see no foreseeable future without status. In addition, applying for DACA requires sending an extensive amount of proof that may not be available for some people. When I (Maria) applied for DACA I sent in documents that proved I had been living in United States from 1999 to 2012, one document per year. However, not everyone has this luxury. Life happens, people move around, lose documents, and they worry more about survival than record keeping.
  5. “Laziness” is a common trope used to vilify POC communities. The Trump administration has had no shortage of anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric. From his recent derision of protections for immigrant from “shithole countries” to his pitiful treatment of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration has made it clear that unless they are cleaning his hotels, immigrants of color are not welcomed in the U.S. Now we hear another common anti-Latino refrain: Latinos are just lazy. We’ve lived with this stereotype forever, as it rears its ugly head every time Latinos dare ask for our share in an economy that we prop up. We’ve seen it used against other minority communities too, as when the myth of the lazy “welfare queen” was used to depict Black mothers who would rather take welfare than find a job. Every time, the goal is the same: paint an image of people of color as leeches living off the government. As Raul Reyes wrote for NBC News, using this laziness trope is not only false, it’s just plain lazy.

To be clear, we are not advising anyone on whether or not they should apply for DACA. That is a decision you need to make in conjunction with your family and community, while considering your own personal life circumstance. Nor are we discounting the fact that DACA has improved the lives of thousands of immigrants (myself, Maria, included). Rather, we suggest that there are a multitude of valid and difficult reasons that undocumented immigrants may not have applied for DACA. These reasons reflect the truths that undocumented people are marginalized in much the same ways in which low income, people of color, LGBTQI, and women are marginalized. We are hearing the same criminalizing rhetoric that blames disenfranchised communities for their struggles instead of taking a wide and comprehensive view of systemic injustices and how to solve them. Systemic injustice is cast as our own personal failings.

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This piece has been cross posted to the medium pages of co-authors Maria Ibarra-Frayre and William Lopez