In the summer of 2005, I was young undocumented immigrant, with little hope and few prospects for a dignified future. Having just graduated high school not long before, I watched as my friends began college, took their first full time jobs, or joined the military.
Meanwhile, I resigned myself to either return to my native Mexico – a place I did not recognize as “home” in any meaningful sense – or to work in the underground economy, like millions of others without documents, often virtually invisible to the rest of the country and routinely exploited and abused.
Later that summer, I received a letter notifying me I had been granted permanent residence in the United States. Suddenly in the country lawfully, my future could consist of more than mere survival. I joined the Navy, became a citizen, and later earned a college degree. Today, I am a doctoral candidate. But millions of other undocumented young people were not as fortunate as I was.
By 2012, there were over one million young people in the country without documents, having been brought to the United States unlawfully as children by their parents. It was then that President Barack Obama instituted the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, otherwise referred to by its acronym. DACA was conceived as a stopgap measure by President Obama after Congress failed to enact meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform, “deferring” deportation proceedings against undocumented youth and allowing them to live, work, and study in the country legally. While it did not offer permanent residence to undocumented youth, but it did allow them to be productive members of society, encouraged them to stay out of trouble, and permitted them to contribute to the nation’s tax rolls and its formal economy.
But on Tuesday, President Donald Trump formally announced the rescindment of DACA, with a six-month delay, potentially upending the lives of some 800,000 young people who currently benefit from the program.
The Trump administration, by revoking Obama’s order and ending DACA, has put millions of lives in limbo. It is true that these young people – commonly known as DREAMers after the 2001 bipartisan legislative proposal that sought to adjust their status (the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) are in the country unlawfully, but they did not choose to break the law and had no say in their parents’ choices. Many have no real ties to their “home” countries, some do not even speak their “native” language fluently, and most have grown up and built their entire lives here. Instead of moving toward the more compassionate, just, and sensible solution of comprehensive immigration reform, the Trump administration has chosen to threaten the stability and to jeopardize the lives and futures of millions of promising, talented, hard-working, and productive young people.
Trump’s decision is yet another attack on the most vulnerable – one that makes little economic, social, or moral sense. The U.S., by the most credible estimates, stands to lose $10 billion in tax revenue and the national economy some $280 billion over the next 10 years as a result of this decision. Worse than its economic consequences, however, are its (im)moral underpinnings, as it is a cruel and unnecessary step that will only create unnecessary suffering. Rather than embracing undocumented young people as full citizens, the Trump administration’s rescindment of DACA will only further breed resentment and alienation among the Latino community, even as it fuels a growing wave of nativism, hatred, and white supremacy in the nation.
I believe civil rights movement veteran and Congressman John Lewis is correct that the next civil rights struggle will be about comprehensive immigration reform. Like the black civil rights movement, DREAMers yearn to be accepted as full citizens. And like the black struggle for equality, they are fighting unjust, irrational, and discriminatory laws. Every person of conscience must demand that Congress act in the next six months to pass the DREAM Act or a similar piece of humane, commonsense legislation – and citizens should pressure their Congressional representatives to move on the issue quickly. As a society that benefits tremendously from the talents, labor, and contributions of immigrant youth, we should not let them fight alone.
Eladio Bobadilla is a doctoral student at Duke, where he researches and writes about immigration policy and the immigrants’ rights movement.