The clock is ticking for young undocumented immigrants

by Interfaith Worker Justice

As the Trump Administration announces its plan for so-called “merit-based” immigration this week, it is intensifying its detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants by casting a wider net that includes the so-called “DREAMers,” the generation of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Ten state Attorneys General have written to the Trump Administration threatening to sue the White House and force it to roll-back President Obama’s executive order that offered temporary protection for most DREAMers.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez has warned the DREAMers and their families to “prepare for the worst.”

Now, Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham have reintroduced the DREAM Act in the Senate in an attempt to shield millions of young undocumented immigrants from detention and deportation and create for them a path to citizenship.

To be sure, the DREAM Act would be a good step towards justice for hundreds of thousands of young working people. Yet, there is a real risk that the passage of the DREAM Act would create even more difficult circumstances for the millions of undocumented immigrants who do not fall into the category of DREAMers.

Below we take a look at the many benefits of passing the DREAM Act and contrast them with potential risks that the passage of the DREAM Act might pose to the broader movement for a just immigration system.

Feeding the un-American narrative of “good” vs. “bad” immigrant

Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty doesn’t read, “Give me your smartest, your richest, your perfect citizens, and your elite.”

The Statue of Liberty lifts her “lamp beside the golden door” for the less-fortunate, the poor, the tired, the “wretched refuse of your teeming shore;” for anyone who seeks a better life. In other words: the American tradition of immigration has been to welcome everyone.

That means that we don’t punish with deportation undocumented people who commit crimes, we trust our criminal justice system to deal with those crimes as they would any other American, even as we recognize the deep flaws within our judicial system that disproportionately punishes low-income communities of color.

But the DREAM Act could exclude from protections young undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of even a non-violent offense. This loophole robs youth of their right to be children: to make the mistakes that every adolescent does without the harsh punishment of being torn apart from their family and maybe the only lives they know here in the United States.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a “good” immigrant or a “bad” immigrants. Like any other broad demographic of people, undocumented immigrants are not a monolith. Within the deeply diverse immigrants communities in the United States, there are all kinds of people. To use any individual’s actions --good or bad-- to paint the entire community of undocumented immigrants with any brush is a mistake.

The “good” vs. “bad” narrative robs individuals of their agency to make positive changes in their life and their ability to be human and make human mistakes without facing the dire consequence of being unjustly ripped apart from their family and their livelihood.

Opening the door to border militarization and the wall

Republicans currently control all three branches of the federal government, including both chambers of the Congress. With a few exceptions, most Republican legislators do not support giving legal status or a path to citizenship to any undocumented immigrants.

That means that any legislation that does give legal status and/or a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants will involve serious compromise.

Under normal circumstances, compromise would be expected, perhaps even welcomed. After all, we live in a two-party system with checks and balances that almost always necessitate negotiation to achieve progress.

However, we are not living in a time of normal political circumstances. Time and again in recent years, Republicans have shown through their own infighting and incompetence that they are simply unable to negotiate in good faith with their counterparts in the Democratic party.

Thus, any immigration legislation that is passed is sure to be weighed down by GOP amendments that increase militarization of the border, fund of the border wall, increase funding for private detention centers, and other policies that will continue to terrorize undocumented immigrants and their communities.

What’s more, passage of the DREAM Act could spend the entirety of Democrats’ immigration political capital on a law that will only protect a fraction of undocumented immigrants. Will the Democrats be able to make a case for Comprehensive Immigration Reform if the DREAM Act passes? Will Republicans even entertain the idea of a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants if their constituents just watched them give legal status to 800,000 people?

These are not new arguments. The doomed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that President Obama and many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle supported died in 2013 because then-Speaker of the House John Boehner bent to the will of the radical right and refused to ever bring that bill to the House floor, despite reports that there were plenty of Republican votes that would have led to the bill’s passage. These same tactics could arrest any effort at immigration reform, comprehensive or not.

The clock is ticking for young undocumented immigrants  

The letter threatening a lawsuit against President Obama’s executive action shielding most DREAMers from deportation sent by ten state Attorneys General to the Trump Administration gives a deadline of September 5, 2017 as a deadline for the president to overturn the Obama order.  

It’s difficult to imagine the Administration and United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions defending the Obama order in any capacity against this lawsuit.

The threat of 800,000 undocumented immigrants suddenly becoming vulnerable to detention and deportation is an immediate and grave threat that must be addressed before the clock runs out. The DREAM Act is the best way to offer that fix for young undocumented immigrants and put them on a path to citizenship. Given the dark clouds on the horizon, the DREAM Act must be a priority for passage before Obama’s executive order is overturned, leaving hundreds of thousands more people at risk of deportation.

Pass the DREAM Act; double down on comprehensive immigration reform

Despite Donald Trump’s despicable rhetoric about Mexican immigrants in his campaign kickoff, nearly 30% of Latino voters tipped Republican in 2016. Why?

Because despite their lip service, most Democrats have continually let down immigrant communities. President Obama oversaw an unprecedented number of deportations in his time in office. Many Democrats supported expanded border militarization and detention centers as part of the never-realized Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. It took years of deep grassroots mobilization and pressure on the Obama Administration before the president would even admit he had the authority to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation, let alone use that authority.

Given these realities, who would blame any undocumented American for skepticism that either party will take any sort of meaningful action to fix the broken immigration system and keep their families together?

That’s why it’s time for progressives to get serious about fixing the broken immigration system. It’s time to make protections for young undocumented immigrants permanent by passing the DREAM Act.

It’s time to shed the dangerous narrative of “good” and “bad” immigrants that feed into the perception of many Americans that immigration is somehow bad for the nation instead of being the rich fabric that makes our country, even still, one of the greatest and most welcoming in the world.  

It’s time for our leaders to lead by doing the right thing, not just say the right thing.

It’s time to remember Emma Lazarus’ words on the Statue of Liberty and to embody those words as a nation, once again.

Finally, it’s time for progressives and anyone who cares about the dignity and justice of all working people to do everything we can to organize and win a path to citizenship for every undocumented American in the United States.

As we work to pass the DREAM Act, we must recognize that even with the bill’s passage, things are likely to get much worse for undocumented immigrants under Trump before they get better.

We must be vigilant in fighting for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and doing all we can to stop families from being torn apart. As Rep. Gutierrez warned, we must prepare for the worst even as we continue to organize to win justice for all.