Dreaming of an Even Greater Nation

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The Supreme Court has ruled that President Trump cannot end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, better known as DACA. Individuals who were brought into the United States illegally by their parents when they were under the age of sixteen may apply for deferred deportation action on a two year renewable basis as long as they have no felonies or serious misdemeanors on their records. Those covered by DACA have become known as Dreamers, because of their hope to one day be allowed a path to citizenship and full participation in American democracy. Many of the dreamers have little or no knowledge of the countries in which they were born, instead growing up in the USA with a constant fear of being sent back to places that are foreign to them.

As a teacher I often encountered such students. I knew who they were because they had a different sort of identification number than their peers. Beyond that one defining characteristic they were literally no different from the others. In some cases they were more hard working and determined to demonstrate their worth to our country. When it came time for them to choose a college to attend they were often worried about studying outside of the state of Texas, fearing that the act of leaving might put them in jeopardy of being deported. With amazing courage and determination the vast majority of them created model lives for themselves, taking full advantage of opportunities by devotion to hard work and exemplary character. Still, the specter of losing those deferments always weighed heavily on them and even more so when President Trump threatened to take that away. The panic that they felt was palpably real.

One of my former students was a brilliant young man whose mother was pregnant with him when she crossed the border. But for a twist of fate he would have been born in the United States and automatically been a citizen of this country. Instead just before he was due to enter the world his grandmother died and his mother could not bear the idea of missing the funeral. She went back to her hometown where the stress of the situation caused her to give birth prematurely. When she subsequently snuck him into the United States once again he was an infant, a person who might have been but was not legal.

He grew up in Texas learning to speak impeccable English and demonstrating academic prowess in virtually every subject. By the time he was ready to graduate from high school he was a member of the National Honor Society, a National Merit Scholar and a dreamer. He had scholarship offers from notable universities across the country but he was still not legal. In an essay he wrote of the fears that haunted him if he were to ever be deported. He knew nothing of the place where he was born. He and his family had lost all contact with the people there. He often thought of how he had just missed being a citizen and he spoke of how uncertain his life had always been and the psychological pressures of always feeling in jeopardy.

Eventually he earned a degree, found a job and became a positive contributor to American society. He pays his taxes and contributes to the economy but the trauma of being illegal is a constant made worse by the enthusiasm with which some Americans insist that he should be sent back to the place from which he came.

I suppose that the Supreme Court decision will provide him and the thousands of other dreamers with a small measure of comfort, but the reality is that until these young people are protected by the force of law and provided a pathway to citizenship they will always live with a decided feeling of dread. They are in a kind of never ending twilight zone that makes planning for the future always feel tenuous. It is long past time for our Congress to demonstrate compassion for their plight and write laws that insure that they never again have to worry about being deported. Furthermore, that law must include a reasonable pathway to citizenship for them.

The dreamers have demonstrated their worth without question. Right now many of them are on the front lines with healthcare workers fighting to save the lives of those afflicted with Covid-19. They are teachers, engineers, social workers, scientists. Their contributions to the good of society are all the more incredible because they are positive producers even as they know that all that they have accomplished might have been taken away with the stroke of the president’s pen. In many ways they have worked harder and under more pressure than most of us would be able to withstand. To denigrate their efforts by calling them illegal is an absurdly simplistic evaluation of who they are.

I am happy with their victorious ruling from the Supreme Court but I urge all people of compassion to contact the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to demand that a fair and just law be passed to give them not just protection but also the right to become citizens of our country. It is immoral to keep them waiting for a permanent solution.

We are presently engaged in searching for the soul of the United States of America. We are finally taking a hard and honest look at injustices. The dreamers must be part of our conversations about how to insure that fairness and equity are the the ideal standards to which we hold ourselves. This is a great country and we have an opportunity to make it ever better.   

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