“We don’t really get close to others if our relationship is made up of unending hunky-dory-ness. It is the hard times, the painful times, the sadness and the grief that knit us more closely together. You’ve seen it with Ebola. People go into a hugely dangerous situation. Coming from countries where they don’t have Ebola. And they have no reason to go to Sierra Leone or wherever. They are just showing us what we are all capable of being. And by proxy we link ourselves to those and try as much as we can to enter into who we are: people of compassion.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “The Book of Joy with Dalai Lama and Douglas Abrams”, 2016
Perhaps we may have to thank the 45th U.S. President for discontinuing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and sending the lives of 800,000 folks into a tailspin and with it, a strong backlash from many Americans supporting these DREAMERS. Should we?
Never before has an issue been with bipartisan support, and according to Mark Zuckerberg, is supported by 80 percent of Americans, unifying conservative businesses with grassroots activists, church officials with small business owners and with professionals, to support the permanent legalization of DREAMERS to reside in the U.S., to provide an application form that they can all fill out so they can be with legal documents. They are not illegal aliens — they are Americans, they feel American, as they have grown up here since childhood, and now are adults.
Why have they not applied for citizenship or to be legalized, as some would say? Some have tried to apply, even paid hefty fees to lawyers, but there is not a line they can get into and there is no pathway for them to be legalized. Some had papers about to be filed with employers sponsoring them here in the U.S., but the business failed. Some had papers about to be filed but the lawyers missed the deadline. For whatever technicality they failed to comply with, there are now over 2,000,000 undocumented folks in America owning homes, with jobs and with families here. Do we just not do anything? Do we simply leave them alone?
Well, former President Barack Obama tried to get U.S. Congress to give him a bill he could sign to legalize these childhood arrivals who were brought here by their parents when they were still young, in search of a better future than where they were born, but the bill never arrived, so he introduced DACA.
What is DACA?
DACA is an executive order put into effect by Obama to allow for those “DREAMERs,” children of undocumented immigrants, who were brought by their parents to the U.S., without the benefit of visas or legal residency papers. DACA allows these children to step out of the shadows and get waivers from deportation, upon passing a background check, payment of an approximately $495 application fee and documentation that they are in school or honorably discharged from the military, and are then given a work permit.
By 2017, 800,000 had qualified under DACA and about 90 percent hold down jobs and have no criminal records. Every two years, they renew their DACA waivers by passing background checks and submitting to biometrics examination.
But, should we really thank Donald Trump? First, he had no clue as to the consequence of discontinuing DACA. He was unaware that these DREAMERs are working as paramedics, as teachers, as nannies, as teachers’ aides, as paralegals and are actually in jobs that require public trust and who care for our family members.
Why do we as Americans allow them into the inner sanctum of our lives caring for our family and family affairs when we cannot even lift a hand to provide them a path to legalization?
Notice these Dreamers display responsibility and extraordinary diligence as 23-year-old Jesus Contreras, a paramedic who was saving lives, while Typhoon Harvey ravaged Texas. Yet, now he faces the threat of deportation as his DACA renewal will not be available.
Isn’t it ironic that after saving lives, his future is now uncertain?
During Inside Edition’s Sept. 5 interview, Contreras said, “I’ve had very little sleep… I’ve been exhausted. Nonetheless, I understand that I am here for a purpose. God has put me here to speak for the hundreds of thousands of us that are dealing with this right now.” With every two years’ renewal and the payment of $495 fee, that brings in $396,000,000 – yup, that is in millions. If 2,000,000 undocumented immigrants had that kind of pathway, that would have brought in $990,000,000 into the U.S. treasury, almost a billion!
What is keeping Congress from passing a legalization pathway for immigration reform?
There is no reason or obstacle given that the White House and both houses of Congress are all dominated by Republicans. If only they can act to serve the common public good and have the right information and the right analysis!
Why do I say that? Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley issued a news release, headlined: “Data Indicate Unauthorized Immigrants Exploited Loophole to Gain Legal Status, Pathway to Citizenship” on Sept. 1, as the Washington Post reported. It created a misimpression that these unauthorized immigrants were granted a back door to green card residency and ultimately, citizenship.
On Sept. 7, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post pointed out that a swift conclusion was drawn, without the underlying numbers bearing that out.
First of all, after DACA application is granted, it simply grants an undocumented immigrant a work permit. Suppose this undocumented immigrant finds love in the right place and with a U.S. citizen, he or she can then apply for a change of status as the dependent of the citizen, and his or her status will now change to that of a green card holder, if he or she meets all the requirements. In another example, suppose DACA immigrants can get an employer to sponsor their working visas in the U.S. and get them green cards, they can also change their status that way.
But this Republican senator chose to interpret the figures wrongly that Kessler questioned his conclusions that a back door to citizenship was provided by Obama, when the 44th president simply chose a very limited option to allow undocumented immigrants to step out of hiding and to visibly obtain a work permit so they can have a job.
After all, if that undocumented immigrant happens to be the next Einstein or has the latest cure or invention for cancer, or invent the technological app that can make a difference in our modern lives, would we not want that for all of America?
The lingering ghosts of racial exclusion
But 20 percent of Americans stay in the darkness and harbor misguided thoughts. Some believe that these undocumented immigrants are simply lazy and have not bothered to find a pathway to be legalized. Believe them when they say they are tired of living in the shadows and will gladly pay the fees to fall in line, if and when that application form is available for them to fill out. But there is not a single application form for them that they can qualify to get in line.
Some misguided Americans and immigrants also think that these undocumented folks are taking away American jobs and are simply lazily waiting for their welfare checks to come in the mail, to qualify for food stamps, cash grants, Social Security and Medicare.
Well, another wrong idea. Medicare and Social Security are benefits reserved for American citizens and qualified green card holders who have worked 40 quarters. These benefits are not available to undocumented immigrants; neither do they qualify for welfare and food stamps.
But the irony is that these undocumented immigrants who have a work permit through DACA are now paying for federal and state taxes as well as Social Security. They subsidized in part a Social Security system which they currently do not qualify to receive unless their status is changed in the future.
Don’t we need to advocate for these 800,000 lives to not be at risk, to not be in peril and not to be deported when over 90 percent of them are responsible working individuals contributing to America?
Even Google and the technology industry currently employ undocumented immigrants with DACA waivers and given that half of the industry has been founded by immigrants, are we not making racism and racial exclusion amputate half of our potential to innovate and to prosper as an integrated America? Will we choose a path of moral decadence as Americans or a pathway that provides a path to integration and prosperity – after all, we have always been a people and a nation marked by compassion!
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.