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DACA: the local story of the year

If you don’t think the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival story (DACA) is a local story, then you haven’t been paying attention. In September the Sullivan County Human Rights Commission held a meeting, and a couple of young people who were directly affected by President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Obama-era DACA policy spoke. When one of the young women, whom we’ll call Iris, testified, many people in the packed meeting choked back tears.

Iris entered first grade in the Liberty Central School District and was crushed when she found out at age 13 she was undocumented. She said her grades began to suffer, and she became uninterested in her studies. At age 15, her spirits were buoyed by President Barack Obama’s adoption of DACA, which allowed her to legally stay in the country and attend classes for higher education. Iris said of that time, “DACA gave me hope again. With DACA I was able to work, drive and attend college. I started to put more effort in school again and started working to save money for college.”

On September 5, 2017, President Trump decided to phase out the program. “The irony of this is,” Iris said, “that it was my first day of nursing school.” She was going through orientation when she got a text about Trump’s action. “So many thoughts went through my head.” She managed to continue through the day’s program, “but once I got in my car, I fell apart.” Her voice quivering, she said she doesn’t know what the future holds, because her DACA status expires three months before her scheduled graduation date. She said she knew that when her DACA expired, she won’t be able to keep the job she has now, and she won’t be able to continue her education in the medical profession.

Various politicians in Washington have indicated that they want to create some kind of fix for these vulnerable inhabitants of the country, who were brought here through no fault of their own. But the priorities of the Republican majority in Washington in recent months have been fixated on granting huge tax breaks to corporations and billionaires who don’t need them, while ignoring the real, life-altering anxiety and uncertainty for the estimated 800,000 dreamers who now live in the county, serve in the military, attend our colleges, work and pay taxes. Some Republicans clearly feel no need to do anything at all about the plight of these young people; they are catering to that portion of their base that is viscerally opposed to their very existence in this county, and refer to them as “illegal aliens” instead of “undocumented immigrants,” which is a bit like calling an African American the “N” word.

People who refer to Dreamers as illegal, intentionally or not, are saying that they are first and foremost a law-and-order problem; whereas people who use undocumented immigrants are framing it more as an issue related to bureaucratic documentation—which seems much less threatening and dangerous. As this piece is being written, the back and forth in Washington indicates that, though Democrats would like Republicans to deal with the DACA issue in an end-of-the-year spending bill, it appears that Republicans are not inclined to do so, and the issue may be put off into January.

Presicent Trump’s rhetoric, which led to his win of the electoral college, was heavily anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant. With the images that came out of the swastika-bearing neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in August, one was left at that time to wonder whether Trump were merely exploiting the protesters or whether he had hoped to further inflame them and others like them to action. But with his approval ratings having dropped from the high 40s at the beginning of his term of office, to the mid-30s now, the power of such rhetoric is by no means clear.

Will that, plus the public’s attitude toward Dreamers, be enough to spur Republicans in Washington to address DACA and the Dreamers? But if they do not address it, they will once again be ignoring the will of the majority. Polls have found overwhelming support for giving Dreamers a path to citizenship, one poll found that support was as high as 86%. If Republicans block such a path, it will provide more energy to voters to go out and vote against Republicans and Trump in the 2018 midterm elections.


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