DACA bill represents 'compassion that transcends borders'
It's a rare day in the United States when a significant majority is of one mind politically, especially when concerning immigration. But the youth who brought us DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, have redefined "gutsy" and made us reassess our country's moral compass, winning wide support in the process. The Dreamers have inspired us all.
For the past two decades, our nation's leaders have tried unsuccessfully to pass comprehensive immigration reform. When Obama — like Bush and Clinton before him — failed in this effort, thousands of young undocumented immigrants refused to let the issue die. They stood up with pluck and nerve to declare their love of the United States of America and to say, "we're here and we're tired of living in the shadows."
In response, Obama created DACA, by executive order, in June 2012. For the first time in their lives, young immigrants who had arrived before age 16, were 30 or younger and had lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, could apply and receive the rights to obtain a driver's license, pay in-state college tuition, work and travel outside the country.
During the past five years, nearly 800,000 undocumented youth applied for DACA. These young people graduated from high school and college and supported their families and the wider community through their work as teachers, social workers, paramedics and firefighters. Not only was life looking up for them, but thousands of employers were pleased and our national economy was experiencing a welcome boost.
No wonder, then, that so many gasped when earlier this month President Trump tossed these young peoples' futures into limbo.
Young spirits can be fragile. I recall my own deep worries when my family came close to losing our farm. I cried hearing my parents argue over how to pay the mortgage, my heart breaking at the thought of leaving our cherished home. Those fears were real. But I was never concerned about being separated from my parents, siblings or friends.
At Adelante Mujeres, a Forest Grove-based nonprofit working with the low-income Latino community, we see the burden of being undocumented. All kids come to our programs carrying the challenges of youth — self-doubt, worries about grades, family, friends and the future of our planet. But some kids carry much more on their shoulders. Undocumented youth fear that perhaps today, or tomorrow, or next week, they will be torn from their loved ones and from everything they've ever known. This constant dread is a trauma no child should experience.
It's been two weeks since Trump's seemingly inscrutable decision to end DACA. And it's time to call it for what it is: race-baiting. As the list of Trump's reneged promises grows, ending DACA and building the border wall with Mexico are critical to maintaining his anti-Latino and white supremacist supporters.
Fortuitously, given that national polls show nearly 65 percent support for DACA, Trump may be compelled to cut a deal. Our moral code does not allow for punishing children for a wrong they did not commit. Since DACA youth were brought to the United States as children, many agree they should not be held responsible for their parents' actions.
What about the presumed guilt of the parents? In over 25 years of working with Latino immigrants and refugees in Oregon and California, I have yet to meet a parent whose primary reason for coming to the U.S. was anything other than making a better life for their children.
I've heard dozens of harrowing border-crossings stories. The one that most haunts me goes like this: A young mother of three, desperate for work to support her children, paid a smuggler to take them, asleep in a car, across the border. To get across herself, she was told to climb inside an empty TV in a cardboard box that's inside a semi-truck. The back of the TV was then screwed shut and the box secured with tape. A dozen other immigrants were in the truck with her, each locked inside their own TV set. The sets were pushed to the front of the truck while other TV sets with all their components, also in cardboard boxes, were piled in to fill the truck. Then, the truck door was slammed shut and locked. She and her companions were trapped for 14 hours in sweltering heat, nearly suffocating to death before seeing the merciful light of day.
Only desperation would compel someone to do what this young mother did. Yet, immigrants the world over daily risk life and limb to make similar journeys, all for the chance to provide their children with a hopeful future.
Compassion that transcends borders should inspire our leaders to do the right thing, especially if they know we all care. Please publicly support the Dream Act bill for DACA youth.
Bridget Cooke is executive director of Adelante Mujeres in Forest Grove.