DREAMers: Undocumented students in the U.S. since 4, 5, 10 years old fighting for the right to higher education via legislation such as the DREAM Act and Executive Order DACA.
DREAM ACT: (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is an American legislative proposal passed through U.S. Senate in 2010 after multiple versions failed, for a multi-phase process that allows undocumented immigrant students to first gain conditional residency and upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency, further allowing these students to access admittance to institutes of higher education.
DACA: (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is an American immigration policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and temporary exemption from deportation thus allowing for ease of access to higher education.
I, like most around me in the United States, am a product of migration and thus immigration.
In my personal context, I am third generation, Jewish, born and raised on this land. My great grandparents, whom at least on the paternal side I had the honor to know before their passing, were Jews who migrated in various ways from the Russian Empire, escaping, like many, pogroms and other forms of targeted violence and third (and worse) class citizenship. And for those relatives that came later, the Nazis. My people, again like many of their peers, who were able to make it out alive and to a new location of relative safety, never spoke much, even when prodded, about from where they came, their history or experiences before coming or specifically how they came. Family lore has it that my paternal great grandfather was smuggled, along with his brother, out of the Russian Empire by a so-called White Russian (I.E., a “real” Russian) and that our family name comes from this man who risked everything to steward my people to safety. And, although I have no proof (again, stories were never shared for not wanting to relive the pain), I find it highly likely that along with entering this country under an assumed name, my various family members also employed whatever tactic they could in order to enter, seeking a better life for their children and descendants. I doubt this migration story is unusual for many of us now on this land, regardless of origin, culture or religion. To seek a better life, to escape violence, to long for more chance of providing for family are all forms of survival. A longing to survive for which most immigrants of this country risked life and limb to obtain. A risk proved worthy to gain access to what the United States supposedly stands for – a land of freedom and opportunity.
My personal history to this land was long enough ago that I don’t need to worry on a daily basis about my mother getting picked up and deported for a simple traffic violation. I do not find any of my daily existence spent concerned that my sibling will suffer a life threatening disease or accident and not be able to seek proper medical attention for lack of ability to access or fear (again) of deportation. If I had one, I wouldn’t need to worry about my child getting targeted by their institutional leaders for lack of proper documentation. And although when bigots and racists or members of groups such as the Klan include me in their rhetoric of hate, I don't have to as much about being targeting based on my Jewishness because, even though my invisibility hurts my soul, my white skin allows me to generally “pass” as I navigate the world.
These last days, I have had the honor to sit with and support the work of so-called DREAMers – young people, students, activists that have made themselves publicly vulnerable by being vocal about their undocumented status in order to fight for the right of higher education. These are young people who crossed into the United States as babies – 4, 5, 10 years old - walking through deserts, being smuggled in the trunks of cars, carried on the backs of others, risks taken by the families of these now fierce and determined young people in order to provide better opportunities for their futures. Mothers willing to risk life, imprisonment, deportation in order to offer their children a life different than what they had – a life that opens the possibility to education as opposed to a life selling trinkets on the street. Fathers willing to spend their days in fear of being discovered as undocumented, working back breaking labor in the fields that provide the food that finally ends up on dinner tables across the U.S. so their sons might have a life free of that labor, a life better equipped to accomplish success that gives back to us all.
These are the young people given chance to be a more an invested part of our society via programs such as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) or DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). These are the young people, who against fear of being public about and possibly targeted for their status, chose to take the risk because living with opportunity is better than living in fear. These are the young people that now wonder, depending on what happens with the current election cycle, will they once again be forced under ground or face being rounded up and shipped out, shipped to a place they don’t even remember, largely no longer have connection to?
One argument often heard is that the entry so many years ago of these young people, their peers and their families breaks law of the United States, that their mere existence breaks these laws. But when one is escaping violence or escaping to a better chance, the laws that criminalize them become criminal. Survival or attempt to survive is an instinct that no living thing would easily give up.
I try to constantly understand the world from the perspective of those around me, those with whom I share this planet. Of course, I can never fully understand someone else's experience but I do think the attempt to empathize helps me to understand my place in the world, helps me to understand why another might make the choice they do based on the way they are impacted by power and privilege, helps me to not so easily judge another's action as right or wrong based simply on how I have experienced and been impacted by the world. I also constantly try to remember my own history - a generational history of being the target of violence and oppression, a personal history of fleeing those historical realities, an immediate reality of being able to grow up in a place that relatively insulates me from that targeted violence, forms of oppression, forced poverty and the like.
And so I ask, what choices would you make faced with similar realities? What action would you take to provide for your family? To feed your children? To attempt and provide your child with opportunities your parents could not even dream of much less access? I know for sure, I would make the choices for not only surviving but thriving. Put in the position of my great grandparents, put in the position of millions of parents and grandparents migrating north from south of the United States border, I would, without a doubt choose to break a law if it meant survival. What would you do?
And I certainly, in good conscience, could never fault or criminalize someone for doing the same. Can you?