If this piece comes off as a tad blunt, consider the “you” addressed here not as you, reader, but as any one of the those critics whose repeated and simplistic response to the plight of many undocumented immigrants — particularly DACA recipients — amounts to “They should just go back to their own country.” On the other hand, if the shoe fits…
Writing about immigration as I do, and about undocumented immigrants in particular, it’s not uncommon for me to stumble across comments like this tweet from “RepubliDan” online:
“More than our share of DACA ppl,” he says. “Go home and help your own,” he says.
RepubliDan misses an important fact many folks in these quasi-United States don’t seem to grasp: Many DACA recipients or “Dreamers” have lived here for the overwhelming majority of their lives. They are home. They are helping their own. This is their country. They know no other.
They are undocumented Americans.
Let’s highlight a fact: The median age for a “Dreamer” on their arrival to America is six years of age. The most common age, however? Three. Dreamers by definition then have lived here for most of their lives. These are real people with real lives. Take, for example, the case of Queens resident Martin Batalla, who came here when he was seven but at 27 faces deportation if his DACA status expires next year. Or consider Kevin Alexander, the award-winning Denver photographer, also 27, who came here from El Salvador as a child. He has to reapply for DACA status in August.
Similarly, many undocumented immigrants have lived here for decades before being detained or deported. Take the case of chemistry professor Syed Jamal, who was arrested after living in the United for almost 30 years. See also Amer Othman Adi, who had lived here for nearly 40 years before ICE ripped him from his wife and four daughters — all U.S. citizens — and deported him to Jordan.
In fact, some undocumented immigrants have lived here longer than their critics have been alive. So I ask those critics, why do you think you have more of a claim to the American dream than they do? Just because you were born here?
Speaking of birth, some anti-immigration extremists want to go so far as to ban birthright citizenship, a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Donald Trump seems to be among them.
Recently, Trump tweeted that too many immigrants were having children in California, provoking, he claimed, “a Revolution.” His language was blunt and remarkably crass: “Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept.” Putting aside Trump’s facility for deploying ages-old racist language and stereotypes to make his point, the President appears to be launching an attack on birthright citizenship.
Birthright citizenship was established in 1898 after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Wong Kim Ark. Wong was born in 1873 in San Francisco to Chinese immigrants. However, when he returned to the U.S. from a trip to China, customs officials attempted to bar him entry. If some critics crudely refer to Americans like Wong as “anchor babies” now, they referred to the children of immigrants as “accidental citizens” then. Nonetheless, the 6–2 decision set a strong precedent for birthright citizenship via the 14th Amendment, which hasn’t been successfully contested since.
If birthright citizenship isn’t going away any time soon, DACA critics would instead like to prevent people who came here as young children from claiming the United States as their home. And so if you search Twitter for “DACA go back to their own country,” you’ll discover a stream of vile, insensitive tweets directed at DACA recipients. (Or maybe just visit your own Facebook feed.)
Many of these tweets are riddled with inaccuracies and sweeping generalizations, suggesting that DACA recipients should be mad at their own parents for bringing them here or that they should just apply for citizenship and come back. They often refer to DACA recipients with derogatory terms like “illegals” or “interlopers.”
But slurs and stereotypes aside, the callous demand that Dreamers “go back to their own country” is preposterous. We have to move beyond pretending citizenship is an unusual, special right we grant to lucky DACA recipients and confront their critics with the fact that, if an adult resident arrived here when they were three, this is their country now. The only one they’ve ever truly known. The only one they remember and belong to.
Consider that 25 percent of DACA recipients have one or more children born in the United States, and 73 percent have at least one U.S. citizen (a child, spouse or sibling) in their immediate family. The United States is their home.
Some critics would also make hay of the fact that some DACA recipients aren’t fluent in English. In fact, most DACA recipients do speak English. But you know what? Maybe English isn’t their first language. That’s irrelevant. The language they speak here may be English. It may be Spanish, or another language. However, we have no official national language in the United States, and since we do have a huge Hispanic population here, we should move beyond considering fluency in Spanish over English as detrimental to citizenship.
Allow me to address critics of these DACA applicants and other undocumented immigrants directly.
At some point in your history — and likely not that far back — you can pinpoint ancestors who weren’t born here either. And certainly the moment they stepped foot on North American soil wasn’t that long ago. The United States simply isn’t that old as a country.
The Native American and South American indigenous people — including the ancestors of those Mexicans crossing our borders — lived here for eons before your family crossed the Atlantic in wooden boats —if they came that long ago.
If you’re Barron Trump, half of your parental unit wasn’t even born here.
It’s time to accept that DACA recipients aren’t just undocumented immigrants: They are undocumented Americans. This is their country. If you suggest they should go back to their native country, you are ignoring the fact that the United States is their country. This is the country they know best.
When you suggest DACA applicants return to a country they happen to have been born in, you arrogantly ignore their life story. You diminish them as an individual. You diminish them as a human being. You assert your superiority as an individual over theirs and that is something that you have no right to do — especially in these United States, the most individualistic of nations on the planet Earth.
You refer to “the law” incessantly, obsessively, because you want everything to be black and white when the overwhelming majority of your fellow Americans understand the situation is not so black-and-white. You refuse to understand that, of course, laws are to be followed but that laws aren’t perfect. That they can and should be changed to account for the variety of human experience. And you don’t consider this because it doesn’t suit you to consider it, not because you have a defensible position.
Perhaps you believe the United States is defined by a particular culture — composed of specific people, who look a specific way and speak a specific language. Perhaps you believe a culture should be static and unchanging, that certain characteristics of a culture should be inviolable. If so, you ignore that no culture is ever static and unchanging.
This isn’t a call for open borders. This is a call for acceptance for those immigrants who have lived here since they were young children. And immigrants who have lived here for decades. Immigrants who have lived here for most of their lives. They’re already Americans. They just don’t have the passport, the birth certificate, the social security number.
They are undocumented Americans.
It’s time to deal with it.