We are a country of immigrants. The Statue of Liberty, a prolific symbol of our nation says that we welcome “your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We say, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp by the golden door!”
So many families came here, settled and created the America we know today. Many were desperately poor and looking for a better life. Today, there are still millions of people who have flocked to the U.S.—roughly 11.3 million doing so without documentation as of 2015. According to the Pew Research Center, Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has helped 728,000 young adults stay in this country—the country they’ve grown up in. Now that Trump is in office, those protections have been threatened, spreading both fear and anger from DACA recipients, their families and much of the rest of the American population. This action has sparked protests here in Portland and across the nation.
What we should really be focusing on here is not just about Trump keeping DACA, but instead making DACA law and a viable path to citizenship.
According to Lisa LeSage and Jay Housegard of Immigration Counseling Services Portland Office, DACA is an executive order, not a law passed by Congress. This means it can be rescinded at any time by any president. Also, DACA does not lead to citizenship. It is instead a temporary fix, allowing the recipient to work, go to school and pay taxes for two years and then re-apply for this pass for $500.
According to Alexandra Blodget from Catholic Charities in Portland, DACA recipients pay taxes into a system they cannot use. Despite misconceptions, DACA recipients and their undocumented families are not eligible for any federal aid. This rules out grants and scholarships for college, food stamps, Medicaid, the tax breaks afforded for healthcare under Obamacare, TANF, child care subsidies, or social security in the event they become permanently disabled. These are programs they are paying into through the taxes taken from their wages and they cannot rely on them if they were to need them. Yet, here they remain, working hard and living in anxiety over whether or not they will be allowed to stay.
Why stay here? The answer is simple: America is as much their home as it is mine. Many of these young adults came here as very small children. Many have little or no connection to their countries of origin aside from the fact that they happened to have been born there. Instead, they have grown up in the U.S. and see it as their home country, and why shouldn’t they? These are kids and young adults who have spent their lives here and now willingly pay taxes and work hard, contributing to the U.S. culturally, economically and professionally in the fields of art, science, math and technology.
We are not talking about gang members or drug dealers as some political leaders may have us think. We are talking about college students, artists, scientists—people who contribute to society. Both representatives from ICS and Catholic Charities pointed out in an interview that in order to even qualify for DACA, applicants must have clean records. These young adults have proven themselves as people we would want to be here permanently. They embody the qualities that make us a great country.
The ideal scenario for DACA recipients would be being granted citizenship. Unfortunately, citizenship is not something that is easily obtainable. According to Blodget, many DACA recipients do not have the option to receive citizenship, despite their work ethic and clean records. Becoming even a legal resident is impossible for many because they do not fit into any of the existing legal pathways to residency. As Blodget put it, “A lot of times you hear people say they should leave and get in line, but how can you get in line if there isn’t one?”
The qualifications for citizenship or a green card are expectations that most people would not qualify for, such as having an advanced degree or a close relative (parent, spouse or adult child) who is a legal resident or American citizen as a sponsor. With the removal of DACA, this could mean deportation for these young people who have grown up here but do not qualify for a green card, the first step to citizenship.
Why are we allowing these people, who are our classmates, neighbors, and coworkers, to continue to live in a state of anxiety and to pay into a system from which they will never benefit? Should the fact that they grew up as Americans and have no criminal history qualify them for citizenship? It should. The qualities these people possess are the same as what all Americans value, and they grew up here with the rest of us. They are already paying taxes, and they have pride in this country. If anyone is qualified for citizenship, it is them.
For now, we need DACA. Going forward, we need Congress to really look at the situation for what it is, make DACA law and a way to become an American citizen. Give these human beings the rights they have earned and deserve. The main thing that makes America the awesome place it is today is our diversity, our willingness to work together and to see beyond differences to help each other. Instead of looking at these people as statistics that are “not our problem” and thinking they should just “do it the legal way,” let’s look at them as the human beings that we have known all our lives: people who are as American as you or I, who deserve a piece of the American dream that we take for granted every day but that they work so hard to earn.
If you are in need of help with immigration, DACA or green card/citizenship matters, go to https://www.immigrationadvocates.org/nonprofit/legaldirectory/search?state=OR to find a list of nonprofit organizations that can help.