Dreamers

kids at federal courthouseClaudia is a teacher and a soccer coach. Jessica works for child protective services. Juan married his childhood sweetheart and now is raising children who will soon have their own sweethearts. Marilu helps people fill out applications and prepare for their interviews for naturalization as US citizens.

Like most everyone else in my community, they have love/hate relationships with their bosses, worry about getting sick (no insurance), but spend more time anticipating possible vacation trips. They consider themselves religious. All of them have pretty good jobs, but small bank accounts. They are my friends and they are lovely and alive, and have been, until recently, mostly hopeful about their lives.

They are also people whose presence in the United States is “unauthorized.” They all were brought to the US as children and have been unable to get their immigration status regularized (for a quick view into how crazed a process that is, you might read this article).

The “mostly” qualifier of their hope is, in large part, due to their decision a short time ago to trust the United States of America, and enroll in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

This program, announced by President Barak Obama back in 2012, allowed some individuals who entered the USA as children without immigration authorization to receive a renewable, two-year protection from deportation. Importantly, they were eligible for work permits.

About 750,000 people enrolled in the program. Called “Dreamers” (after the Dream Act Bill), the success they have had in the short time that the program has been in place is nothing less than remarkable. DACA recipients received increased wages (they work), reducing the numbers of families living in poverty while boosting the economy in general. The Dreamers contributed to the well being of communities across the US in all the ways that people given half a chance typically do. They paid into Social Security and Medicaid, showed up for work, and made plans. They were suddenly, measurably happy.

Making 750,000 people happy is good, although apparently not for everyone. In early September of last year, the president of the United States decided to dismantle DACA. He claimed to be acting “fairly” as the Dreamers were victimizing “millions of Americans.” Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, noted that the program had “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.”

These assertions about Dreamers are wrong (Aviva Chomsky’s two works, “They Take Our Jobs! And 20 Other Myths about Immigration” and “Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal” offer clear, in-depth rebuttals to those careless claims). Both the president’s and the attorney general’s beliefs are out of step with what the American public believes (overwhelming majorities of both Democrats and Republicans support the Dreamers).

All the same, the inchoate, racist fear of immigrants that lies just beneath the veneer of American decency is a powerful tool for venal politicians looking for cheap votes. All of the talk against Dreamers, and the incessant crowing in favor of an astronomical investment in an intrusive, ineffective border wall seemed to have worked. The government has shut down. The president is delighted to have 750,000 scapegoats to tie to the Democrats, most of them, are unwilling, so far, to sell out these young people and the deeply-held American value of fairness.

And so, while initially these Dreamers’ chose to trust the people of United Statements served them well—with DACA they began to lose the habit of worrying about their life coming to that abrupt, sudden, violent change brought by deportation (for a sense of that violence, take the time to watch ACLU of Texas’ reporter Debbie Nathan’s work in this Intercept piece), this moment of happiness may in the end have been just that—a moment.

Christian is one of those Dreamers who has now begun looking over his shoulder at a threat that may well be coming down the pike. He is a teacher who loves his job in a local community college. We met for coffee a few months back, and he told me that he loved the work that the Dreamers were doing, but that he himself was not particularly cut out for activism. “The activist is my sister,” he said, with a proud smile.

I remember asking him then that if DACA was shut down and if there were no Dream Act—if he would become, once again, “criminalized”, would he, while he still had travel documents, leave the border area to go to some place in the US where it might be easier to go underground, where he might have an easier time finding a decent job.

He leaned back from the table and said, emphatically, “No way! My parents can’t leave the area, and, after all that they have done for me, there is no way that I would leave them. I wouldn’t leave them. We would just suffer together. That’s how we do things—together.”

Well of course. That is what normal human beings do—suffer together. Look out for each other. Hang in there together. It is a survival mechanism, this solidarity, but it is also a lovely way to lead a life. It is not an easy way to live, by no means, for this solidarity requires selflessness, some times over a long period of time, and courage, and trust. But for some of us, that is just how we do things—together.