My mother and her parents are immigrants. I suppose they are the “good” kind. My mother was brought to this country as a child, four years old. I can’t say for sure how they got it despite the U.S. still having strict quotas based on national origin, but I’m guessing being white and having a Holocaust survivor sympathy card to play helped. I know my grandfather’s brother was already in the U.S., and maybe he moved here as a refugee right after the war so he sponsored them. They weren’t turned away because they didn’t speak English or weren’t sufficiently “American”, which is remarkable for a country that less than 20 years prior had turned away boatloads of Jewish refugees because they didn’t quite believe things were so bad for them in Europe, because they also suspected that Jews were secretly Communists and also a lot of white Americans didn’t really like Jews anyway.
I may not know exactly how, but I know a few things: they had enough money to pay for whatever papers were needed, and to buy a plane tickets, which was very expensive in the 1950s. They were allowed to come here, and they didn’t even make this choice under economic or literal duress. They lived a relatively comfortable life in Israel, a place where they felt they could finally live without fear of being Jewish, something I know my grandfather had dreamed about growing up in Poland. Despite finally having his deepest spiritual desire come to fruition, he and his family were allowed to move to the U.S., and they were able to stay here with no fear of deportation.
My mother never had to be a DREAMer. She did not need a program like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. She never had to justify her presence with a desperate plea to be seen as just a human being, trying to make a good life for herself. Her parents never had to toil away in underpaid jobs because they had no rights, because they couldn’t go to the police. She never had to defend her place in the country where she grew up by casting blame on her parents.
I hate that’s what defending DACA is: making young adults argue that they deserve to be here because they were brought as children and had no choice in the matter, as though the parents who chose to come without papers somehow don’t deserve to be here. As those the parents chose to come to this country that would revile them, abuse them, exploit them because they are too lazy or impatient to “wait their turn”. As though everyone gets a turn.
Meanwhile, I flit across the globe with my U.S. citizenship, visiting countless new countries without even having to apply for a tourist visa beforehand. When I went to Croatia last summer, I realized the night before I went that I didn’t know if I would get my visa automatically on arrival or if I was supposed to apply beforehand, because I hardly ever think about applying ahead of time for a visa.
I move from country to country, confident that I will be able to live where I choose because I have the funds and the passport powerful enough to do so. (Although this Spanish visa is making me hella nervous, but I think it will be fine, knock on wood.) I don’t deserve to complete my masters in Spain any more than displaced peasants or farmworkers or urban blue collar workers deserve to stay in their home countries because they can’t afford a visa application fee (which is hundreds of dollars, not to mention the cost of all the other documentation). I have spent $1,000 USD getting my visa together for Spain, and that is probably a conservative estimate. Right now, that would be 17,000 Mexican pesos. I don’t think Mexican farm workers make that much money in a year.
I used to work at an immigration clinic, helping record and translate people’s paperwork for their asylum application. The U.S. has a very strict definition of what types of persecution qualify you for asylum: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (being a woman, LGBTQ, etc). Just one unsavory link or action in your past can blow your chances. I had to listen to heartbreaking stories only to tell the client that they shouldn’t try to apply for asylum, because their story wasn’t enough and coming forward could get them deported. For example, you can apply for asylum if you were persecuted for your political beliefs, unless those political beliefs lean towards communism or socialism. You can apply for asylum if you were persecuted for being gay, but not if you were targeted because you are gay and your father was involved with drug cartels.
You definitely can’t get asylum for economic persecution, the violence and harassment and mistreatment that comes with being poor, or having a badly paid job in a country with unlivable wages. You can’t get asylum if your only problem is that your country is trapped in a trade deal with a much more powerful country that has screwed you over. Economic refugees are not a category permitted to receive asylum in the U.S. If they were, it would be a very uncomfortable reminder of who caused those economic problems in the first place. (It was us. We caused them.)
So yeah, I want to defend DACA. But DACA isn’t enough. I stand to defend all immigrants, even those without a “good enough” story, even those who came without documents because they bought them American Dream that we sold. At one point, someone thought it was a good idea to tell the world to give us its tired, its poor, its huddled masses yearning to breathe free. And the world listened. So let’s take some fucking responsibility.
If you are a US citizen/resident and would like to help DACA recipients and push Congress to act on humane immigration reform, you can attend a rally and call your Congressional representatives. If you are not a US citizen or resident, you can donate to CHIRLA’s DACA Trust Fund to help DREAMers pay the $500 DACA renewal fee so they won’t be deported before Congress can (hopefully) create a new immigration policy.