We can’t be complicit in persecution of immigrant communities

We can’t be complicit in persecution of immigrant communities

Yesterday, my mom and I sat at the kitchen table to discuss the White House’s latest demands for an immigration deal. 

The administration says it will refuse to protect “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, unless it gets a southern border wall, 10,000 new immigration agents, tougher laws on asylum seekers as well as extended families of immigrants and a right to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities.

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The bottom line, as far as we could tell, was that the administration is looking to broaden how it targets, arrests and deports immigrants. As she served brown rice and boiled eggs for breakfast, my mother said calmly, “Si los ayuda a ustedes, no me importa lo que me pase a mi.”  

 

It means, “if it helps you, I don’t care what happens to me.”

It speaks to her self-sacrifice: My mother would rather jump into the cross-hairs of an aggressive deportation regime than do anything that might prevent my younger brother and I from becoming citizens. 

But the implication that she would be traded for us is troubling.

What the White House is asking for is the chance to persecute some immigrants in exchange for pledging to protect others. That kind of deal would only fuel a dangerous narrative about the good immigrant versus the bad immigrant, pitting better-educated immigrants against other undocumented individuals — people like my 74-year-old mother, Central American children and day laborers.

I am part of the DACA cohort whose protection does not expire until 2019, so I am in a different legal status than those DACA recipients whose protections expire as early as this month. I understand the urgency of those who seek an immediate solution, especially those who secured good jobs or never grew up without DACA. But protecting one class of immigrant group in exchange for crackdowns on others isn’t a deal we can accept.

I am a lawyer, in addition to being an undocumented individual, and I recently represented a Honduran child who was subject to hunger and violence because of the color of his skin. He crossed the border on his own seeking a better life. Even though he immigrated for different reasons than I, I saw my story in his. I cannot trade my citizenship for his safety.

In the United States, children of the immigrants of yesteryear always blame newcomers for taking jobs and increasing crime. That seems to be a dark, but consistent, American tradition. We cannot fall into this same vicious cycle. 

Instead, undocumented people must push for the passage of a clean Dream Act along with the budget that does not include the systematic persecution of other human beings. Only then can we help build momentum for Congress to start deliberations to address other necessary immigration legislation, including that of border security. 

Indeed, there is consensus around immigration reform that doesn’t center on deporting our parents or funding a stupid border wall. We can crackdown on corruption by providing better training and better pay to border agents to prevent terrorists and cartels from infiltrating our forces. We can modernize points of entry at our nation’s border to better identify who is coming in and out of our country and provide law enforcement cutting edge technology to effectively intercede drugs and guns. 

Using the Dreamer narrative, we were able to tell our stories and gain the support of our neighbors, professors, college presidents, elected officials, celebrities, business leaders and the moral consciousness of this nation.  

And while there is an internal debate on the usage of the term “Dreamer,” what is clear is that we can’t wait for policy change to happen on its own and can’t forget to tell our stories and the stories of our parents, “the original Dreamers” and of the countless deserving immigrants coming to our shores. Were not going to get anywhere or anything if we don’t stand in solidarity with one another. 

Working together with people of different political ideologies is necessary for a healthy democracy. But we wont be a pawn in a dangerous debate over who should be safe and who should be persecuted.

Cesar Vargas is director of the DREAM Action Coalition and a national advocate for immigration reform.