Can you believe that on June 15th 2013 it will officially be a year since President Barack Obama and the Secretary of Homeland Security announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? Yup, it’s already a year since he stood in that garden and announced that some undocumented youth will be able to obtain working papers and not be deported for two years. Wow, time really does go by fast, doesn’t it?
What has changed since Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was announced?
A lot has changed! I’ve met some undocumented youth who started brand new jobs that pay minimum wage or maybe even more. Some now qualify for benefits at said jobs. I’ve seen Deferred Action recipients start learning how to drive, feel safe enough to fly for the first time and cry over this opportunity. With Deferred Action, many have been able to apply for internships they were once excluded from. Some are now able to complete prerequisites for degrees they thought they wouldn’t be able to finish without a social security number. Personally, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals opened the doors for me to realize I’m eligible for something else. No doubt, this program made an impact in the lives of many undocumented youth across America.
The benefits of this program are just one side of the coin, there’s also a lot of frustration. Frustration that is not often talked about publicly because we, the undocumented, are constantly reminded that we should be grateful for whatever scraps are thrown our way. You know, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. We’re reprimanded by many for wanting “more”, when more really just means equal.
I’ve also seen the hurtful and unjust effects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The youth who are now confused about who they are. Not entirely undocumented but not really a citizen or a resident. Not on a path to citizenship but not a target for deportation (for two years at least). Youth who struggle to gather enough money to even apply. Youth who find out they’re not eligible for this program. The most irritating, disappointing, hurtful act of all, deportations didn’t end because Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was announced.
Not everyone qualifies for Deferred Action, and sometimes, those who DO qualify are wanted for deportation. What good is giving us, the youth, a program that will protect us from deportation while our communities are still targeted? Probably one of the most talked about story is Erika’s. While she has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, immigration raided her house and took her mother and brother away in front of her.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals taught me what any future immigration law will look like. It defined what hard working immigrants are. It gave me a taste of what the requirements to stay in America are and it looks ugly. It’s no longer the huddled masses yearning to be free.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was announced as a program to give the “best and brightest” a chance of contributing back and being part of America. I naively thought we were already part of this land, and this earth, regardless of immigration status. The discourse around who gets to stay has become more and more narrow. They would like to keep those who graduate high school, go to college and complete it. Those who are looking at careers in the science, math and technology fields. Those who “haven’t gotten into any trouble”. Those who don’t rely on the government’s help to make it by. Those who are “American in all sense of the word, except on paper”. And that’s what immigration reform is looking for as well.
Maybe this idea of the “perfect dreamer” and model minority has also been our fault. Campaigns were, and continue to be, built around stories of youth who fit all those things. And while it’s not bad to excel in school or speak English fluently, it’s what happens to the rest of the country when they read only these stories that’s bad. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals set the tone for immigration reform. A bill that focuses on the need for ‘good immigrants’ and the detention/deportation of ‘bad immigrants’. A bill that doesn’t fix the immigration system but creates stricter criteria that define who is welcome and who isn’t. Why can’t immigration reform really be comprehensive and humane without adding programs and things that hurt others? This discussion fails to recognize that trouble has been designed to target immigrants in the form of: racial profiling, raids, NAFTA, E-verify, secure communities, capitalism, stop and frisk, police quotas etc.
The reality is that every year 65,000 undocumented youth complete high school and make up only 2% of graduates. Yes, only 2%. So what does that say about the rest of the youth? and about the whole undocumented community? That we’re still wonderful! That some of us are unable to finish high school, go to college and complete it. But we also speak other languages besides English or sometimes better than English, have left the United States and come back, consider ourselves other identities besides American or alongside American, aspire to work in other careers outside of science, math or technology, are struggling to make it by sometimes etc. The current immigration reform conversations are limited, the same way Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is. Not just between politicians, but many immigration organizations fall into this black hole narrative too.
I can’t help but wonder, what will happen to all those undocumented immigrants who do not fit the desired criteria, like many of our family members or friends? Are all of us not good enough for America? Why are these standards forced on us immigrants while many American children themselves don’t even fit into them? Why is it so difficult to welcome us just like we are, in all our differences? What does being “American” even mean?
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals made organizing a lot more challenging. Many have normalized inequalities and have become compliant. Complacency is deadly because it makes us immobile. All the unfair crap is still UNFAIR even if we’re holding a brand new state ID or brand new social security number. It’s NOT okay to give us working papers but continue to oppress us. Here in New York, even with Deferred Action, we don’t qualify for state financial aid and in some states youth would still be paying out of state tuition. Some states have blocked youth from obtaining drivers licenses which create unsafe roads. We continue to be singled out and labeled as such which make harassment inevitable. UndocuQueers are being left out of immigration reform conversations whether they’ve been granted Deferred Action or not.
Qualifying for this program should not, I repeat, SHOULD NOT equal silence. We did not come out of the shadows time and time again to be pushed back into them.
On this one year anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals I’m remembering all the forms of direct action that made this two year stay a reality. It wasn’t that President Obama woke up on day and was like, “OMG Michelle, I love the dreamers let me give them working papers” but because we organized. We fought. I’m thinking of all the separated families because of deportations, detention centers and borders. I’m thinking of all the groups of people fighting in their states for some form of relief. I’m thinking of all the groups of people who have been left out of Deferred Action and those who may be left out of any form of immigration reform.
If having papers doesn’t give us freedom, equality and respect, then what really does?
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