I spent this week attending a conference on immigration hosted by PICO http://www.piconetwork.org We gathered as a faith-based group of 110 activists from 13 states working for humane immigration reform.
Several workshops were led by Dreamers. The Dreamers I met are educated young people, who move effortlessly between English and Spanish. Each is deeply committed to the values that we as a nation aspire to: Hard work, family, faith, responsibility to community, respect for others.
I heard their stories. Listened to their hopes and dreams. I heard too their fear of being deported, of being separated from family and friends. Of being forced to return to a land they don’t know.
I was inspired by Jennifer who came to this country at thirteen years of age. Her parents crossed the border without papers, fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras. In the eighteen years since, she graduated from college, has a full-time job, pays taxes and is raising two beautiful children who are U.S citizens.
Jennifer is a Dreamer. One of the 800,000 who were brought to the United States by their parents as children.
In 2012 President Obama, as a result of Congress’ inability to act, passed an executive order (DACA) giving them temporary legal status (renewable every two years). DACA allowed these young people to go to college, get a job, serve in the military. They became known as ‘dreamers’.
In September 2017 President Trump rescinded that order. As of March 5th 2018 the Dreamers will lose their protection and be subject to deportation.
In the meantime, the Republican led Congress is playing a cruel game. Dreamers are used as pawns for their political maneuvering.
In recent days Republicans led by President Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have become more hard line. They’ve tied the fate of the young people to further militarization of the border with Mexico, further restrictions on immigration and an increased budget for deportation.
The budget includes adding beds in detention facilities. Their goal is to increase from the current 39,000 beds nationwide to 51, 379 beds by the end of 2018. Each bed on average is used by ten individuals over the course of the year. As a person is detained and then deported it frees up the bed for a new detainee.
Do the math and the goal of ICE is to ramp up to 513, 790 deportations per year (double the average in recent years). Each of these 513, 790 people have a name. Each has a story. Each has a dream.
One of those names at risk, is my friend Jennifer and her two children.
It’s been said that ‘the one who controls the narrative, has the power‘. Mr. Trump and his supporters cast immigrants in the most negative way. He has referred to brown and black immigrants as coming from ‘shithole countries’. He whips up a crowd saying that ‘Mexicans are rapists, murderers and drug dealers’.
This narrative is racist and fear based.
But I believe in a different narrative. That the United States has always been more than a place on the map. We are a country of ideas and ideals to which we aspire. One of those ideals is that we are a nation of immigrants. That we make room for people of all backgrounds, who aspire to work hard, raise a family and contribute to the overall good.
This is the story I believe in. This is the story that makes America truly great. This is the story I will stand up for.
How about you? What story do you believe in? What story will you tell?
Each generation must decide which story we believe in. Which ideals we will live by.