Contributions of the undocumented: Why DACA shouldn't end

Contributions of the undocumented: Why DACA shouldn't end
© Greg Nash
Jesus Alberto Lopez Gutierrez is a DACA-eligible man who is currently detained. He can renew his DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) if they would release him from ICE custody. This summer, the Supreme Court is set to make a ruling on whether to end DACA, which has protected individuals who came to the U.S. as a youth and met particular requirements.

DACA “youth” is no longer a youth. DACA’s end now also means deporting parents of children. The average age of active DACA recipients is 25, with the majority of recipients – 83 percent- over the age of 21.

Many of them join the over 5 million mixed-status families, as parents of U.S.-born children. DACA families have settled in the U.S. over the years since the inception of the rule in 2012, becoming an integral part of our communities. Ending DACA means a ravaging of families and whole communities — a trauma so severe it is unconscionable.

As a scholar and practitioner who has worked with immigrant youth and families for over 20 years and a second-generation Filipina American born to immigrant parents, I learned early on there is very little difference between me and DACA recipients — only status. This group of individuals is a force — persistent, bold, insightful, and very often, brave and remarkably optimistic about their futures in this country.

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They are some of the most inspiring individuals I have encountered and come to know. They are, as Pulitzer Prize journalist Jose Antonio Vargas puts it, undocumented citizens. They hold the noblest values of our country in their heart and with great fortitude, they continue to contribute, struggle and thrive in our communities as they pursue their dreams.

Each has their own story that should be told, collectively embodying humanity, not unlike our own. Listening to their stories and talking with those who are undocumented, I find myself strongly identifying with them, as their narratives in many ways mirror my own.

They are like me and the generations of immigrants and their children throughout history in that they must navigate and negotiate their place in this country, their sense of belonging and identity. Simultaneously displaced (physically, psychologically and/or emotionally) and in the diaspora, as our heritage and origins may be elsewhere around the globe, home is here in America.

They have unique dreams that involve self-discovery, a meaningful education, and true connections with their family, their friends and the various communities in which they identify and are members. These dreams involve contributions to a better world in which they envision. 

They are acutely aware of the depth and levels of sacrifice their immigrant parents made to come here on their behalf, and the considerable burden they carry to reconcile those sacrifices and do whatever it takes to survive and succeed here.

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They hope for only the best for their children that they grow up in a world that is safe and kind, who sees them and cherishes them for who they are regardless of color, ethnicity, identity, and status. 

DACA recipients are like me in that they have been led to believe that their (and their children’s) human rights would always be protected in this country.

Immigrant communities are not protected. 

Our country must make hard decisions on enforcement and parameters of what should be considered legal migration to the U.S. The DACA rule was a temporary immigration fix that didn’t have the power of law. Yet the most recent Gallup poll reveals that the majority of Americans -83 percent - favor or strongly favor a proposal to allow DACA recipients a chance to become U.S citizens

They are a group that has been protected by the Obama Administration, whose families have contributed close to 6 billion in federal taxes and 3 billion in state and local taxes. They have been recipients of millions in scholarships invested by educational institutions around the country. Their level of civic engagement, contributions as members of our society, “spending power,” and socioeconomic impact on the national scale is colossal.

With my legal status as a tremendous privilege, as a U.S. citizen and child of immigrants, I stand with all DACA recipients and undocumented citizens. More and more of us, as allies, must stand with undocumented citizens, to not only advocate for their fundamental human rights, but also to spotlight their rich contributions to our lives and our country, and continue to make the case that they are legally entitled to a place here in America.

We share the same visions and dreams of a magnificent, diverse, gracious and welcoming nation. I see myself in who they are. They are part of my community. And they have established members of our nation’s larger community. They deserve a clear path to legal citizenship.

Maria Joy Ferrera is a licensed clinical social worker and associate professor at DePaul University. She is the current co-chair of the Chicago based Coalition for Immigrant Mental Health, Steering Committee Member of The Midwest Human Rights Consortium under the Illinois Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics.