A DACA recipient’s story is the American story
How far would you go to give your children a better life?
That’s the essential question to ask yourself after the Trump Administration decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was created by President Obama in 2012 to give young undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children the chance to live, study, and work legally in the U.S. So far, about 800,000 undocumented youth have joined the program, and have been nicknamed “Dreamers.”
Support for the Trump Administration’s decision focuses on the arguments that DACA recipients are getting “free stuff” from taxpayers, that DACA recipients should just become citizens through other means, that the move will reduce crime, or that DACA recipients are “damaging the economy” or “stealing jobs” from American citizens.
But none of those reasons for revoking the program are supported by facts or data:
■ The “free stuff” argument: DACA recipients cannot receive welfare or food stamp benefits, and they pay $495 every time they apply for or renew their DACA status. Ninety-one percent of them have jobs and they pay taxes, even though they can’t benefit from those taxes.
■ The “just become a citizen” argument: It is illegal for any immigrant to apply for legal citizenship for three years if they’ve lived in the U.S. without documentation for six months. That same ban goes up to 10 years if an immigrant has lived in the U.S. without documentation for a year or more. And that applies even if they marry a U.S. citizen or qualified for a green card through a relative. So: DACA recipients can’t “just become citizens.” They’d have to return to a country they’ve never known for either three or 10 years before even *beginning* the application process.
■ The “crime reduction” argument: DACA applicants cannot be approved if they have a criminal record. And getting approved does not prevent recipients from being deported if they are convicted of a crime after. And, overall, 1 in 3 U.S. citizens have a criminal record. Only 1 in 400 of DACA recipients have a criminal record. It’s a non-issue.
■ The “damaging the economy” argument: DACA recipients are projected to inject $433 billion dollars into the U.S. economy over the next 10 years. DACA recipients will contribute $24.6 billion to Medicare and Social Security over the next 10 years.
■ The “stealing Americans’ jobs” argument: Let me get this straight. You’re worried about an undocumented kid getting through high school and/or college, and then out-hustling you for an open job? People of all political stripes agree: in a market-based economy, you become valuable by making yourself valuable, not by having a leg-up at birth.
That leaves just the moral question: How do we treat hardworking young people who have never known another country? The answer can’t possibly be to force them to self-deport to a country where they’ve never lived. But that is what our government is telling 800,000 youth: “You’re not safe in the only country you’ve ever known.”
Take a moment and imagine someone telling this to your own child.
The only defense for this logic seems to be: “These kids’ parents still committed a crime by coming here.”
Recall that 1994’s NAFTA agreement opened up U.S.-Mexico trade, primarily for corporate benefit. Jobs were outsourced south, and cross-border movement of capital and goods accelerated. Following the laws of supply and demand, laborers came from Mexico to the U.S. to work, and benefit the American companies that hired them, and were then branded “criminals.”
So I’ll pose the question again: How far would you go to give your children a better life? Would you flee poverty and massive unemployment in one place to follow the demand for workers to the another place? Would you make sure your children had a roof over their heads, food on the table, and books in their hands?
A DACA recipient’s story is literally the American Dream, shared by immigrants across generations of American history. I’ll quote comedian Hari Kondabolu: “America hating immigrants is like a body rejecting its own blood.”
The sowing of distrust of hardworking people is an easy way to rile up nativist sentiments and score cheap votes. But it has real human consequences, including in the Grand Valley. Kids in District 51 schools are afraid. Kids at CMU are afraid. People who bring a hard-working ethic and diversity to our community are afraid of losing the only lives they’ve ever known. To any freedom-loving person, or to anyone who has made sacrifices for their children, that is unacceptable.