COMMENTARY: Government Dealt Dehumanizing Blow to DACA Recipients

Dane Macaskill is a contributor to the FileRight blog.

In providing a quasi-legal status to the 800,000 undocumented people who received DACA, and then robbing them (and their employers and their families) of those protections a mere 5 years later, the U.S. government dealt a dehumanizing blow to a uniquely vulnerable group of people living in America.

I am not a “Dreamer,” but I did spend my childhood and young adulthood living in the U.S. as an immigrant with no legal status. I remember with an ache what it was like to be ridiculed for my accent, until one day it had totally vanished; to tell incredulous classmates (in kindergarten) that my white skin was African skin; to sit out the school class’s trip to Toronto, because I had no legal authorization to leave and reenter the U.S.; to move from rental to rental, because my parents could never provide the necessary paperwork to buy a house; to chafe for internships that I could never apply for; and ultimately to feel American, but without any legitimate claim to that identity. I remember acutely what it felt like to not truly belong.

President Donald Trump has told DREAMers to “rest easy”. This message was tweeted after the uproar that came after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA.

And I know that in some ways I had it easy. I was never profiled or discriminated against on the basis of my ethnicity. I was blessed to be able to go to college, and by the time I went to law school, I even had work authorization. In my first year, I still wasn’t eligible for Federal Aid, but I was able to pay my tuition by working as a paralegal at a law firm, and at a local diner on the weekends. By the time I graduated, I had become a permanent resident and secured a better paying paralegal job where I only worked part-time as I finished my studies.

It got easier and easier. Today I am a U.S. citizen. I have a loving husband, a daughter, and a career that inspires me. I live in a supportive and thriving community and travel often, on a U.S. Passport. When people ask where I am from, I say Ohio. But when I think about the announcement rescinding DACA, I am filled with that old familiar gagging feeling – the feeling of not belonging here, and not belonging anywhere.

On the wings of this feeling, I am compelled to add my voice to the outcry against this decision and, particularly, to try to debunk this misconception that DACA recipients are somehow less worthy than other applicants in securing legal status. This idea, on which so much of the immigration debate hinges, that there is some kind of legitimate ethical distinction between legal and illegal immigration is a sophism used by xenophobes to make headway on an anti-immigrant agenda.

Cleveland, Ohio, USA – July 18, 2016: Young Hispanics support the Dream Act at the “Stop Trump” march on the first day of the Republican National Convention. DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program defers immigration enforcement action against young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Immigration Law is a set of morally neutral rules that specify who is allowed to enter the United States, and for how long.  Under U.S. immigration law, foreign nationals may enter the United States temporarily to engage in explicitly authorized activities, or permanently to reunite with family, work for a company long-term, or flee persecution.

Within this legal system exists a myriad of nuances that determine under what conditions and how long it will take an applicant to secure a right to remain in the U.S. permanently. And make no mistake, these nuances have very little to do with ethics or morality. For example:

  • If you entered the U.S. as a child on a valid visa and never left when it expired, and if you are sponsored by your U.S. citizen spouse fifteen years later, you can complete the entire green card process in less than a year and secure permission to work and travel while it’s pending.
  • If you entered the U.S. as a child without a visa, by illegally crossing the border with your parents, and you are sponsored by your U.S. citizen spouse fifteen years later, you will need to leave the country and wait an additional ten years to apply for your green card – unless you can get a waiver of that requirement by showing “extreme hardship” to your US citizen parent, spouse or child.

These different outcomes are not predicated on distinctions in the character of a person that we want to be permanent members of our community. They’re examples of arbitrary parameters that define an “orderly” administrative process. To pretend that there is some moral or ethical justification for differentiating the results here is akin to arguing that there is a moral distinction between speeding and running a stop sign.

But that doesn’t mean that morality doesn’t have a place in this conversation. When a government confers recognition on 800,000 people who find themselves on the wrong side of these arbitrary parameters, and then strips these people of any legal protections a mere 5 years later, then it’s time to talk about morality.

In my case, I ultimately got my green card through my permanent resident mother’s sponsorship. I came to the U.S. when I was 5, and became a green card holder when I was 27. I was out of status for 22 years, and although I finally got a green card, and then citizenship, through a “regular” (and hard fought) legal process, I can tell you that it felt as arbitrary (and magical) to me as a fairy waving a wand and making me “legal.” Children who are raised in America grow up to be American. And that is true whether they have a piece of paper proving it or not.

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