We’re Not Just “Dreamers”

How Federal and State Immigrant Rights Protections Are Still Leaving Many Behind

Editor's Note:

A DACA recipient expresses concern that current legislative fixes to respond to immigration enforcement are only protecting selected community members. The irony, Chavez writes, is while trying to respond to Trump’s divisive politics, many in the immigrant rights movement have condoned the “good v. bad” immigrant rhetoric through divisive legislation.

The day Trump announced his decision to rescind DACA, the fears that I had back in November 2016, when he won the elections, were becoming true. That Sunday I had an uneasy feeling all day, as I tried to enjoy the last summer holiday with my children and my husband, but knowing that an announcement in the coming days would affect my immigration status I had a sick feeling in my stomach that had me anxious. As soon as I heard the news, I froze and I called my mom to tell her what was happening and that’s when I realized how stupid my reaction was. My parents have lived in this country for more than 20 years and no piece of paper has limited their ability to provide for our family; it wasn’t about to limit me either. 

I was so mad that this man was taking away this work permit, but then I realized that I didn’t need that paper to allow me to continue being who I was. In the conversation with my mom, it hit me that I didn’t ask for DACA. We, the community, the affected ones, didn’t ask for DACA. DACA was given to us by the Obama Administration as a last hope. The last strand from Obama’s first term to guarantee him a second term. Then I started remembering the hesitation I had in the beginning to even apply for DACA back in 2012. It took me a while to come to terms that by me applying I was leaving behind many family members who would still have no work permit because the limitations of DACA disqualified them. 

Fast forward to today’s news. DACA is dead, and the immigrant rights movement is now fighting for it to come back in some form. There are different proposed legislations at the state level and national level to try and amend what this man did. On the federal level we have The Dream Act that would pave the way to citizenship for those “model” undocumented people, and at the state level there is The California Values Act (SB 54), recently signed by Governor Brown, making  California a supposed “Sanctuary State.” But both of these approaches still don’t address what I felt first applying for DACA – it only protects selected immigrants, and leaves many in the same vulnerable position they have always been in.

The issue with both the Dream Act and the California Values Act is that they exclude a great deal of our community who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. The Dream Act doesn’t want anyone who has a criminal background, and the California Values Act hands over our people who are in the prison system to ICE. Plus, for example, in the California Values Act, local law enforcement is allowed to share with ICE release dates from jail for immigrants who have prior convictions of felonies and even some misdemeanors. So in many ways the president’s politics has worked – it allowed our movement to condone the “good v. bad” immigrant rhetoric through divisive legislation. My question to those who advocate for immigrants, for people like myself – why are we willing to sacrifice some for the gain of others? 

I have a problem with what has been proposed and how it’s being done. It’s easier to fight for the “good” immigrant, for the “Dreamers.” It’s a safe political move. Who is going to disagree with someone who had no knowledge that they were breaking the law as children, who are now grown, gone to school, working, and live a productive life? That’s the ideal American, right?

But what about my parents? They are the ones who brought me here. The ones who have taught me my work ethics, my dedication towards education, my morals. What about my older siblings? They were older when they got here to the US and couldn’t apply to DACA because of age restrictions. Don’t they get a piece of the pie as well? And how about my husband who has a criminal record? Is he less deserving of immigration relief because of the mistake that he made when he was younger? Why isn’t he given the opportunity to be part of this “solution” as well? 

These systems are meant to be divisive and to make us think that just because it is written into law, it makes them correct. And I don’t just see this divisive thinking impacting my family, I see other families who are being sacrificed through my work as a participatory defense organizer.

I work with families, some immigrants, whose
loved ones are facing the criminal justice system.
For many of the immigrant families I support, the California Values Act and the Dream Act will not protect them from separation. In fact, they are more exposed because the immigrant rights movement has said that these families are ok to tear apart, because they have had contact with the criminal justice system

These families fight on a day to day basis to balance the scales of justice for their loved ones. And in abstract, laws are supposed to make sense, but people don’t live their lives in abstract. One thing affects the other. For example, I know a case of a man who lost his job, went to ask for work outside of a home depot and then got arrested for loitering, transferred to ICE within an hour of his arrest and then faced deportation. Where in the law does it make it illegal for someone to ask for work to be able to survive? Things like this is what angers me about the exclusion of those with criminal records. Even the The California Values Act celebrated by the many in the immigrant rights movement says that it will protect families from California – except for those who have particular charges on their record. But they too have lives here, families that will be torn apart as deportation hits their home.

I know my people are not just Dreamers, we are fighters, survivors, and so many other courageous things. And I know that I will continue to fight for an immigration reform where all 11 million of us are included – not just the ones that are politically attractive.

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