The dream becomes a nightmare
How easily a dream can turn into a nightmare. Young people who thought their dream of living legally in America would soon be achieved after getting protection from deportation under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program now realize how quickly their dreams are turning into nightmares following President Donald Trump’s decision to end the program.
Not even having the guts to say so himself, Trump had to rely on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long distinguished himself as an anti-immigrant politician, to declare the bad news—that the government was rescinding Obama’s DACA that protected from deportation some 800,000 undocumented youths brought here as young children.
DACA offered young undocumented immigrants temporary, renewable protection from deportation and to get work authorization.
Using the oft-repeated justification that these young people broke immigration laws, took jobs from Americans, and that the “failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism,” Sessions said the government would no longer protect these young immigrants, more commonly known as “Dreamers.”
The hypocritical Trump later said he has a “great love” for these people. “I have a great heart for these folks we’re talking about. A great love for them and people think in terms of children, but they’re really young adults,” Trump said. “I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.”
And yet a few hours earlier, Trump had said the DACA program was “unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court.” What a way to express one’s love!
So now he tosses the blame on Congress and puts pressure on Capitol Hill to enact within six months a legislative solution to the nagging problem concerning these young children, or they will face deportation. But Trump didn’t tell the lawmakers what he wanted them to do, leaving them hanging on an issue that has bugged Capitol Hill for 16 years.
The DREAM Act or the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act was first introduced in the Senate on August 1, 2001, by Senators Dick Durbin (D- Illinois) and Orrin Hatch (R- Utah), and has since been reintroduced many times but has until now failed to pass. The bill calls for a multi-phase process for qualifying alien minors in the United States that would first grant conditional residency and, upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency and a path to citizenship.
Obama, who has previously opted to remain silent on the sidelines since leaving the White House, slammed his successor’s decision. “To target these young people is wrong—because they have done nothing wrong,” Obama wrote in Facebook. “It is self-defeating—because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel.”
“Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated,” the former President added.
Indeed, for the current leaders to say these Dreamers disrespected the Rule of Law, took jobs from Americans, and put the nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism is an outrageous lie. The some 800,000 who were enjoying DACA protection had all undergone a tough background check by federal agencies before they were approved under the program, which gave them not permanent residency but just a two-year renewable deferral of deportation, a work permit and eligibility for permanent residency and other future benefits.
Nor are these young people taking jobs from Americans, whose job loss can be attributed to other factors such as lack of qualification. These Dreamers have long established themselves as productive members of American society, who pay their taxes, increase productivity and contribute to the US economy. Studies have shown that about 9 in 10 of these young people are working taxpayers, and deporting them could reduce the gross domestic product by over $400 billion over the next decade.
The country’s business leaders have supported both the DACA and the proposed Dream Act. The US Chamber of Commerce said: “The original DACA program announced in 2012 was premised on sound public policy, and unlike DAPA, it was not challenged in court. Individuals enrolled in good faith and became ingrained in our communities and the nation’s economy. To reverse course now and deport these individuals is contrary to fundamental American principles and the best interests of our country.”
Anti-immigrant hardliners like Trump and Sessions keep on barking about the Rule of Law, the taking of jobs from Americans, and the threats to peace and order and national security, but we all know that their stand is borne out of racial prejudice and bigotry.
As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says, “There is no upside whatever to this cruelty, unless you just want to have fewer people with brown skin and Hispanic surnames around. Which is, of course, what this is really all about.”
The Dreamers now feel like DACA has become a trap that Obama never meant it to be. The government invited them to come out of the shadows, get biometrics taken and put in the system, get a social security number, and lead normal lives. Now that the government knows where they live and where they work, they now fear that immigration agents would come and arrest them.
For years, these young people lived a nightmare not of their own making. They were too young, about five years old, when their parents brought them to a new country in the hope of building a better future for them. After living in the shadows for years, DACA made them dream their parents’ dream again.
Now that Trump has rescinded DACA, those 800,000 who dared dream are now finding out that they may have to face an even worst nightmare all over again, shaking at the thought that they will be removed from the only country they have called home and forcibly taken to a country so foreign to them.
Val Abelgas is a former managing editor of Manila Standard. He now lives in the United States and is about to publish his book, On Distant Shores.