For much of American history, immigrants have been depicted through a lens of suspicion, investigated, and even criminalized. This distorted outlook is rooted in nativist assumptions that have fundamentally influenced much of the US apparatus.
As a result, we find ourselves surrounded by rhetoric and imagery that portray immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Central America, as morally corrupt border crossers who threaten “American values.”
However, within these harsh narratives and policy decisions around undocumented immigration, there is a group of young immigrants, who for nearly two decades, has been tokenized by public opinion as “deserving” of the privilege of living and working in the US.
They are the DREAMers. They are my students, and I used to be one of them.
Safety of Legality
As a college professor, immigration scholar, and former DACA recipient, I have dedicated my professional career to interrogating the lived experiences of undocumented youth and young adults in educational institutions.
Throughout the years, my research has taken me into their lives as I listened to their reflections on the intersecting and complex impacts of DACA on their lives. For many, the simple reality that they could exist without fear of being “found out” was in itself humanizing.
The epistemic injustice rooted in designating someone as “illegal” can be seen in violent programs such as Secure Communities and 287g, which allow local law enforcement to collaborate with ICE to funnel undocumented immigrants into immigrant detention centers. Many of them are only stopped for minor traffic infractions.
In all of the interviews I conducted over six years, one common theme holds true: the safety of legality, even if liminal and temporarily, has gifted DACA recipients the human right to exist beyond surviving in a nation that never ceases to impose new ways of limiting their pursuit of happiness.
Crafting a viable pathway to citizenship for DREAMers gives millions the dignity to choose the trajectory of their own lives. It also restores dignity to the US as it seeks to move beyond its recent immigration track record.
Named in reference to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a 2001 bill proposed by Senator Dick Durbin (D- Illinois) and former Senator Orrin Hatch (R- Utah) for undocumented children, youth, and young adults, the DREAMers have spent most of their lives in the US, developing similar values, interests, and sense of duty to the country that US-born citizens learn throughout their life.
Yet, because of their undocumented status, they are often used as political pawns in on-going bipartisan negotiations on immigration.
As we move beyond the apocalyptic tenure of the Trump administration, it is time to put an end to the uncertainty that plagues the lives of millions of DREAMers who currently benefit, or hope to benefit, from DACA and provide a direct pathway to citizenship.
The DACA program, implemented in 2012, had the potential to benefit over two million DREAMers. It allowed hundreds of thousands to come out of the shadows, receive deferral from deportation, as well as obtain documentation. This permitted them to engage in active citizenship by opening bank accounts, get driver’s licenses, and for those I interviewed, enroll in college and work in jobs related to their study.
As part of the Trump administration’s tactics to carry out a militant anti-immigrant agenda, DACA was rescinded. This action and the resulting legal battle has kept new applicants from benefiting from the program.
Those who applied before 2017 have also faced difficulties and restrictions related to their work authorization cards. This has deterred many from renewing applications for fear of getting rejected and being deported.
Even after immigration advocates challenged Trump’s DACA rescission, recipients had to endure the agony of having one’s future in the hands of the Supreme Court.
Last Friday afternoon, however, Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered the Department of Homeland Security to reinstate the DACA program. The order went into effect on Monday, and as a result, it is expected that more than a million DREAMers will be able to apply for DACA status for the first time.
Those who already hold work authorization cards through DACA will be able to renew them for two years. It is for this reason that Friday’s judicial decision brings tentative hope to those who are ready for the Biden-Harris administration to deliver on their campaign promise of healing this nation’s soul.
For DREAMers, each branch of the American government has shaped their lives: from the multiple bills introduced to Congress between 2001 and 2019, through the Executive Order and subsequent rescission of DACA, all the way to the Supreme Court’s ruling that found flaws in Trump’s efforts to rescind the DACA program.
This legal limbo that DREAMers have been conditioned to live with may make some of them skeptical about Friday’s decision. Nevertheless, to many, the timing of Judge Garaufis’ ruling indicates that this could be the beginning of the end of decades of struggle to make tangible, comprehensive change to our immigration system.
It is in the hands of the Biden-Harris administration to undo the profound impact of years of fear and uncertainty for DREAMers and send a message not only to them but to all immigrants and their families the US has the potential to move beyond its unjust treatment of immigrants.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.