This Hispanic Heritage Month, let us not lose heart or surrender our dreams
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This year, the U.S. will usher in Hispanic Heritage Month with renewed assurances that a wall costing a mind-boggling $10 billion to $21.6 billion will be erected along our southern border — a physical structure further dividing two neighbors and vital trade partners.

This year, many Latinos will take part in the Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 celebrations with painful awareness that promises made to a generation of Dreamers have once again been broken. These young students, blue- and white-collar professionals, arrived as minors — and not of their own volition. Yet today, the estimated 800,000 covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program know no country other than the U.S. as their home.

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They are not criminals, and the majority do not see themselves as perpetual victims doomed to a life of government dependency. To the contrary, most seek empowerment and opportunity. Most share a vision and purpose of making their families, their communities and, yes, their country, greater.

Some may already have experienced the trauma of family separation during a period of mass deportation under the previous administration. Others live with a growing uncertainty about their futures under the current one. It is now difficult for them to trust that congressional leaders maintain the resolve, political will or ability to bring closure to this issue within a few months’ time.

Still, the 59 million Latinos living in the U.S. must not lose heart. And the Dreamers — who constitute a fraction of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country — must not surrender their dreams of escaping the shadows to live freer, more fulfilling and empowered lives.

While President Obama created DACA by executive order in response to mounting political pressure, advocates in the current scenario may be less successful in influencing Congress to resolve it by spring. If Congress fails to act, it will be incumbent upon President Trump to reconsider. He has signaled that he might.

Given the confluence of these events, it is important to reflect on President Ronald Reagan’s legacy. In 1988, Reagan expanded to a month what President Lyndon Johnson had established as a week in 1968.

The “Great Communicator” sparked a nation’s imagination with his aspirational message of individual empowerment, inspiring us to believe that America was a “shining city on the hill.” He worked to tear down walls, not erect them. He worked to contain the overreach of a bureaucratic and often inefficient federal government, while tempering justice with mercy in the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.

As a proud daughter of Mexican immigrants, I am grateful for Reagan’s leadership. He was prescient in understanding the value of courting this important part of the American electorate. And, he was brilliant in leveraging Hispanic Heritage Month, not as a tool of division, but rather as a demonstration that Hispanics were just as American as those intrepid immigrants who once crossed not a river but an ocean in search of liberty, religious freedom and greater economic opportunity.

As a friend and acquaintance to more than one decent, hard-working, undocumented resident, I cannot help but think about how compelling and life-affirming the stories we tell this month and beyond can be. This is especially true for immigrants who have been made to feel they are second-class citizens in an increasingly hyper-partisan political environment.

As an advocate for personal freedom, self-sufficiency and the free market, I know the value of telling life stories that blunt stereotypes. When we set the record straight about who we are as a community, we show that we are not a drain but instead a value-add to the broader society.

This is not to say we have no problems to overcome. Certainly, we must do a better job of engaging in honest conversations about how to encourage more legal immigration, ensure fairness for those who come here legally, and prevent the kind of horrific abuse and exploitation stemming from human trafficking.

Certainly, we must do more to champion an ownership society within a free-market construct — a community of savers, homeowners and business owners who are economic stakeholders in America. As stakeholders, our community will naturally advocate for fair tax policies and those that reward hard work, sound financial decision-making and informed risk-taking, helping families keep more of the wealth they create.

And certainly, we must still do more to provide our community with greater school choice and quality education, as this is the best mechanism for upward social mobility.

Sadly, the truth is that none of these arguably more important issues will gain traction within a community continually used as a political bargaining chip on the question of immigration. We are in essence a mixed-status community.

The Pew Research Center estimates that Latinos will comprise almost 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2060. Let us hope that by then we are living in a political system that rewards both hard work and heart — and not one that appears so bent on destroying the latter that it threatens to annihilate both.

Pedroarias is director of Hispanic and Latino outreach for Think Freely Media (TFM) and manages Think Freely Latino (www.thinkfreelylatino.org), a TFM project. She previously served as senior adviser to the U.S. treasurer and acting director of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.