It's beyond time to protect DACA

It's beyond time to protect DACA
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To know the journey of Antonio Marquez — all he has accomplished to graduate from college and the promise his future holds — would make it hard to deny him the right to become an American citizen.

Antonio’s dream was to become a broadcast journalist and draw attention to the value of immigrants. He did well in high school and community college. During his long journey, he picked fruit in rural Washington state, worked at McDonald’s, and cleaned bathrooms while working for enough credit and the grades needed to get into San Diego State University, where I serve as president.

Antonio, now 34, is one of more than 800,000 people brought to the United States as a child by parents or other family members without legal documentation. 


Congress first discussed protecting people like Antonio in 2001, when the initial version of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors legislation, DREAM for short, was introduced. 

At least 11 versions of the bill surfaced over the past 20 years, but none have passed. In 2012, President Obama gave Dreamers like Antonio partial relief by establishing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA, by executive order.

Obey the law, stay in school or enlist in the military — and DACA participants could work, study and pursue their dream of a better life in America without worrying about deportation.

Antonio graduated last month with a degree in journalism. In the fall, he begins a graduate program in liberal arts and sciences. In 2017, the last time a national survey of Dreamers was done, 91 percent were employed, and half were in school. The same year as the survey, then-President TrumpDonald TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum MORE moved to end DACA in his crackdown of undocumented immigrants. 

In the Southwest, this visceral feeling of fear of deportation is not new in many Latino communities where inequities in our immigration system can tear families apart at a moment’s notice. I still feel this fear today and can imagine the fear of our students. I need only to look back at the experience of witnessing my own Mexican immigrant grandmother being taken away to be interrogated by immigration officers about her legal status after we returned from visiting relatives in Mexico after a brief trip. Despite living in the United States for over 50 years, sending her only son to fight in WWII, raising two daughters as a single working parent, and raising my sister and I, her brown skin, accented English, and a faded green card were enough to threaten us with her deportation. Although my experience was decades ago, we must stop this cruel fear and recognize the true value and contribution of these students and families.


DACA is again being debated in Congress. Biden has also called for comprehensive immigration reform. But even with the vast majority of Americans in favor of protecting DACA and bipartisan support, its future remains uncertain.

If the fate of DACA participants remains tied to the prospects of “comprehensive” immigration reform winning approval in our volatile political climate, people like Antonio will remain at risk. At the same time, children who have never known DACA — or even had the opportunity to become Dreamers — are starting and finishing high school, applying to colleges, and trying to sustain jobs and careers with even less security.

That’s why Congress should consider DACA apart from broader reform measures and finally give Dreamers the path to American citizenship they have earned.

Incremental progress is not always valued in politics. I understand the desire for a big immigration fix, and what some see as the strategic imperative to tie DACA and Dreamers to some larger reform. But if we continue to insist on bold political wins or nothing, we are likely to again get nothing in return.

We can’t allow another generation of American children in all but name to continue to graduate, work and succeed among their peers while still looking over their shoulders for immigration agents as Congress remains paralyzed by partisan political warfare. Take the incremental step of solving the DACA stalemate and give our Dreamers the peace of mind.

Adela de la Torre is the president of San Diego State University.