When I first heard that a federal DREAM Act was rumored to be reintroduced this year, I’m not going to lie: a small part of me felt a spark of hope ignite. I’m 34 years old. I’ve been living in this country for 32 years as an undocumented person, and frankly, I’m over it. Though I’ve found ways to live my life, seize opportunities and push open doors, I can only (selfishly) imagine the kinds of doors that I could step through if only I didn’t have this albatross around my neck.
Despite being a DACA beneficiary, let me assure you that being undocumented is not glamorous. Sure, as a result of the work in which I’ve been involved, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and see more of this country that most of my U.S. citizen friends. But in the end of the day, this undocumented status constrains expanding horizons that I’d love to fly. And it’s precisely because of this real feeling of arrested development that a small part of me couldn’t help but indulge the fantasy of not being undocumented anymore.
But that moment only lasted a few seconds. Considering the administration that is currently in charge, I immediately started thinking though many uncertainties and questions that I remember debating back in 2010, the last time the federal DREAM Act had a real chance of passing.
“What kind of narrative and messaging will be put forth by those who are in support of this bill? What will negotiations look like in order for it to pass, and how much of what’s currently in the bill will make it to the final draft -if it even gets that far? If it passes, what will happen to those who don’t qualify? Who are our friends, frenemies, and opponents? Does this bill really have a legitimate, if small, chance in passing? Do I, as an undocumented person, really want this bill to pass?”
Of all the above questions, it’s the last one was the one that’s left a dissonant feeling of confusion in my chest, a bittersweet taste on the palate of my mouth, a hollow uncertainty in the pit of my stomach.
Ever since Trump was announced the winner of the election last year, undocumented people living in this country knew we were in for a harder four years. Under Obama, we saw the armament of a formidable detention and deportation machine that expelled 2.5 million immigrants from the United States and ordered ICE to keep 34,000 beds occupied on a nightly basis across all immigrant detention prisons in the country. And even though Obama promised to pass the DREAM Act under his tenure, organizers had to ultimately strong arm him into signing DACA in June of 2012 after several of his campaign offices were strategically taken over by undocumented youth. When Obama vacated the white house this year, Trump inherited his well-oiled monster apparatus of incarceration and destruction, along with an army of enthusiastic collaborators willing to make sure that the entire process escalates without a hitch.
Though Trump touted during his campaign trail that he would revoke DACA, he has yet to rescind the order. This has been a thorn on the side of his administration, as his most hardcore supporters are pushing him to end DACA. And now, with the upcoming legal challenge that ten states have filed against the order, DACA is officially on the chopping block. If Trump himself doesn’t kill DACA, the upcoming legal battle certainly will. In a closed meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on July 12th, former head of the DHS John Kelly let it be known that the administration was likely to do nothing to defend the program. John Kelly took on the new Chief of Staff position a week ago, leaving the position vacant for the time being. It’s unclear who will take on the position, but if it’s Kris Kobach, immigration advocates will have more to worry about than just DACA ending.
Most DACA beneficiaries understand that DACA was never meant to be a permanent solution. It was supposed to be a step towards something more comprehensive and permanent. Most of us knew that the program could end at any moment and that we had willingly turned over our information to Department of Homeland Security in exchange for a temporary work permit and a stay on being targeted for deportation. But what we didn’t count on was how this program would become a widening fissure in our communities, as it pushes a certain kind of narrative that protects some and focuses Trump’s lens on many others. Many DACA beneficiaries have seemingly forgotten the hard work, sacrifice, pain, and organizing that made the program possible, subscribing instead to a narrative that many undocumented organizers have deviated from since 2009: the good immigrant vs. the bad immigrant.
The DREAM Act being reintroduced has seemingly fueled that narrative even more, as the timing seems to offer the bill as bargaining chip in the face of DACA’s uncertain destiny. Most national immigration organizations have yet to put out a public statement about their stance on the bill, instead delving into calculating the politics of this bill being a success under this administration. Immigration bills are unique in that they’re the only ones that explicitly criminalize people in exchange for relief for others. If the bill takes hold in the senate and negotiations/amendments begin to reformat the bill, it’ll likely turn into something that’s heavy-handed in enforcement with only a small select group of people benefiting from its passing. Under this administration, the DREAM Act could change the lives of DACA beneficiaries for the better, while condemning millions of other more vulnerable undocumented people for persecution, incarceration, and deportation. This legislation would likely affect this country’s immigration practices for decades to come, as comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon. DACA beneficiaries who are advocating for the passing of the DREAM Act could very well be slating their own family members for a terrible fate.
This is difficult to admit. A part of me understands that SOMETHING passing in terms of immigration relief is better than nothing; if it’ll help someone, it should pass. But when I think about what it could potentially mean for many other undocumented immigrants who don’t fit into the DACA model, it twists me up.
The truth has slowly become apparent to me: as DACA beneficiaries, we have to question our role as immigrants in this country. We have a responsibility to question, strategize, and organize, as this potential opportunity for us could very well limit the chances of other immigrants and refugees already here in this country who don’t qualify under the DREAM Act, as well as those who are attempting to come into the United States.
We keep saying this over and over whenever the U.S. government takes a step or two backwards when it comes to immigration law, but we are now in the fight for our lives and rights. The current administration (dys)functions vastly different from what we, as undocumented people, are accustomed to in past administrations. This means that we have to be much more creative. We have to be much more visionary and aggressive in what we want for ourselves and our communities. We have to trust each other to play to our strengths. Organizers must organize, strategists must strategize, and artists must create in order to give us all ideas of what could and should be.