BY JEANETTE LENOIR
The deadline was met. It was Sept. 5. President Trump followed through on another nation shifting promise to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, (DACA) program. In a widely reported 2016 immigration policy speech in Phoenix, AZ—where Trump rolled out his plan to build a wall along our southern border and have Mexico pay for it—the president boastfully stated, “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants.” This, after blaming Sanctuary Cities, Obama, Clinton and “out of touch politicians” for the many lives lost at the hands of illegal immigrants.
In this same speech, he declared “Zero tolerance for criminal aliens,” an inflammatory terminology many immigration advocates reject as dehumanizing. Angel Ramirez is a DACA recipient and agrees. He joined about 30 other protesters and local activists to voice opposition to the president’s decision at a rally in Utica, NY, and says “I don’t think there’s any illegal person in the world anyway because we are just limited and bound by policies and political actions that, if you think about it, doesn’t make any sense.” Nevertheless, President Trump asserted, “We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.” Accordingly, wouldn’t the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients be the ones more likely to thrive and flourish having benefitted from living in America most of their lives? Dreamers, as DACA recipients are often called, grew up in America’s school system, have been enculturated in this country, embrace America as their only home, fight wars and die in her name, and love her equally as those here on legal grounds. In other words, it contradicts the very message of this administration, especially if finding a solution to the country’s immigration problem is still the outcome all sides are aiming for.
After taking office, President Trump told David Muir with ABC News in a February interview that DACA recipients need not worry because, “I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody.” He followed his rhetoric with actions; pardoning Joe Arpaio and ending DACA. And, throwing his support behind tougher immigration legislation like Kate’s Law and The Davis-Oliver Bill. Sonia Martinez, President of Mohawk Valley Latino Association says she hopes former President Obama steps in to help those under threat of deportation. “He gave the approval for this program, for the Dreamers to stay in the United States of America. I think it would be very important.” The former president did chime in via social media in a lengthy statement essentially condemning the move as making “no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know.”
Ramirez says the move to end DACA is devastating. “I’m married, I have two kids, we just don’t know what’s in the future, what’s going to happen. He goes on to say, “I was here my whole life. My parents are from Mexico and I didn’t know anything. And, if I go back to Mexico, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” He says the uncertainty is weighing on him because he may have to uproot his family from the only home they’ve known. “I have to start thinking about what other options we have in case this completely ends and there is no other way for us.”
The first time Ramirez realized he was in the country without legal documents was when he applied for a job after high school and was asked for his social security number. “I’m like, ‘what is that?’ because even when you go to school they don’t ask you for that, they just give you your ID to go to school, they don’t tell you, oh, you’re illegal.” He adds, “Then you find out all these things that you cannot qualify.” Ramirez says since gaining employment he has steadily paid his taxes and even became a homeowner. “I always pay my taxes, I always pay everything that I needed to because my hope is one day that I will become a citizen because this is all I know. This is home for us.”
Even so, the decision to end DACA was the writing on the wall in the president’s speech when he said, “While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in.” Perhaps, but as it pertains to DACA recipients, a 2016 survey by the Center for American Progress found that after taking part in the program, 63 percent of recipients moved to better paying jobs, 49-percent gained greater access to employment that matches their education and skill sets and 48 percent gained jobs with better working conditions. If we want to close the gap between who we are and who we want to be as Americans, we must keep working towards the principles that set us apart from all other people on earth, and those against a pathway to citizenship for these young people must also considering the spirit of the laws that bound us as one to form the ideals of E Pluribus Unum.
In the State of New York, DACA recipients have greatly benefited from the amnesty program. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services nearly 42,000 young people came forward, passed background checks, and live and work legally in the country since implementation of the program. And, according to research conducted by Washington: Center for American Progress Ending, DACA would cost New York nearly $2.6 billion in annual GDP losses if it’s phased out. “Right now, some people are saying go back to your country but what would Native People say about you now that you’re here and settled,” Ramirez asked with a quizzical look on his face of those who oppose the Dreamer’s pathway to citizenship. He says being called “Illegal” or “Alien” by his own president is disturbing. “What does that word even mean? Like, we are outside of this world? A lot of things don’t make sense anymore. We feel like we’re being excluded, we have no value…that’s how we feel right now,” he says.
Ramirez says although his faith in God is strong, it’s going to take real action to keep DACA in place. “We need to let them know that this is not okay.” If he could talk to President Trump directly, Ramirez says he would remind him of his own immigrant roots and family ties and our collective humanity, “We are all immigrants. Nobody is better than anyone else, we are all the same, we are all humans. There is no races, there is only one kind and we are all humans.” Regardless if his words reach the president, Trump has punted the issue to Congress almost superficially reassuring DACA recipients and the thousands who spoke out against his decision in an audio clip provided by The Washington Post that, “We’ll see what happens in Congress. I have a feeling that’s not going to be necessary, I think they’re gonna make a deal. I think Congress really wants to do this.” He goes on to say that he wants to see in the legislation some “good border security” measures and a “great DACA transaction where everybody is happy and now they don’t have to worry about it anymore.” If history is any indication of how Trump’s promises play out, Dreamers and immigration advocates should definitely worry until the proof is in the pudding. And, that proof will come in the form of firm, realistic and enforceable immigration policies that embodies the spirit and culture of America.