By Mary Summerbell
Dreamers take their appealing and emotion-evoking name from the acronym for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. This legislation, first introduced in the Senate in 2001, aimed to create incremental legal status in the United States for dependent children of illegal immigrants. It offered a multi-phase process – granting first conditional, then permanent, legal residency and ultimately, citizenship, if desired – on meeting increasing qualifications.
To be eligible, individuals must register with the federal government, confirm their identities, pass background and fingerprint checks. They must show proof of United States residency for 5 consecutive years, proof of high school level education and be free of criminal records. Males must register for Selective Service. The fee to request consideration is $495, including a work permit and security check services.
Permanent legal status requires two years of college, or military service with honorable discharge, and continued evidence of “good moral character.” Participants are not eligible for federal welfare subsidies or higher education funds, such as Pell Grants – only student loans and work study programs. Most colleges require that they pay out of state tuition, regardless of living in the state where they go to school.
This law, however, was never passed. After multiple proposals, the latest version was voted down in December, 2010. Thus, in 2012, the Obama administration, in a program created by a memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security, authorized a signature immigration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Not offering a path to permanent legal residence or citizenship, it gave, instead, renewable two-year deferrals to certain immigrants who came to the United States before their sixteenth birthday, before 2007.
Similar to the DREAM Act, fulfilling requirements of registration, school attendance or military duty and, again, no criminal record, allowed youngsters – brought into this country illegally by their parents – a legal way to stay here to study, work, drive, live and thrive. Theoretically, without fear of deportation or release of personal information to immigration officials if the program ended. Except that DACA, because it came by executive action – rather than a legislative approach, like the DREAM Act – from its inception inherently carried the seeds of concern that it could be rescinded at any time without congressional action. From the very beginning it has been a mixed and controversial situation. A reassurance and a risk. A promise tainted with the possibility of being broken.
And yet many dared to step forward and take their chances on this path. DACA has approved almost 800,000 people, with over 800,000 renewals to date. Participants are 93% Latino, 73% Mexican – and 93% successful. This is an extraordinary result, with less than 1,500 participants dropping out, being cancelled, or deported. That’s less than .2% of those accepted and way below crime rates of the general population. DACA is splendidly popular, with 76% approval of U.S. citizens, and enthusiastic and active support of business, education and faith-based communities.
Clearly, the majority in this country see DACA as a solidly positive thing, with many benefits – financial, medical, academic, cultural, social, emotional and spiritual – to American society. These young people, the “Dreamers,” as we call them, seem to uniquely spark in most of us the personal, maybe secret or childhood dreams that we harbor in our hearts, no matter our age or origins. Perhaps they poignantly represent the opportunities we missed in our youth, when we tried very hard but lacked the resources to overcome obstacles to achieve our worthy goals. Now, through DACA, we can give them the chance we wish we’d had.
But some still see all DACA aspirants as lawbreakers, entering this country technically illegally, even if not possibly by their own choice. They believe DACA to be an illegal overreach of executive power, allowing amnesty to criminals. Among these, ten Republican state attorney generals recently told president Trump that he must end DACA by September 5, or be sued by them.
That is why, amidst historically massive hurricanes, healthcare and human rights debates, tax and national debt ceiling issues, waves and waves of continuing public protests, and Korean military threats – not to mention the abundance of Trump-Russia connection investigations currently swirling around us – the Trump administration has chosen to stir up yet more controversy and chaos over DACA. Oh. And immigration reform was Trump’s first and foremost campaign promise.
So, was DACA conceived in illegitimate intentions? Is it unconstitutional? Or is it a practical and compassionate way for some to make right what they can to be accepted in America on their own merits? Would ending it now be an overdue correction of previous errors? Or a betrayal of vulnerable, hopeful, worthy young people by our federal government? As with most complexities, there are so many ways to see it – with some conflicting perspectives, but also, I think, with plenty of room for compromise and agreeable resolutions.
Change is usually a slow and messy process. Especially when it involves governments and laws and rules and regulations. Most laws are changed and evolve by people going against them, sometimes breaking them, to be made better by ever increasing awareness and ever improving application of higher principles. Remember, our founders broke with Great Britain in a treasonous attempt to establish a new government – “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” They were criminals. They broke the law.
In this nation of generations of immigration, founded on a philosophical and political concept of “liberty and justice for all,” who are we now? Who is this “all” of which we speak? If it is only all of American citizens, then how do you get to be one? If we are ever to settle our immigration issues I think we must honestly answer two questions. “What does it mean to be an American?” And,” What is the American Dream?”
I believe that the “Dreamers” exemplify – indeed, epitomize – the American Dream. They are an amazing, outstanding, shining example of self-motivated people making their most earnest effort to achieve success, wherever they find themselves. They are so well-aligned with the original vision and purpose of this country, which is, after all, freedom – isn’t it? And not freedom just as an ideal or a dream, but freedom as a pathway of opportunities to a reality of self – development and service to a Greater Purpose.
As citizens of the United States, we need to more clearly define and more humanely enforce our immigration and citizenship regulations.
As citizens of the world, we need to keep dreaming – and keep waking up to more practical possibilities of real, true freedom for all of us.