Aug. 15 was bitter sweet for undocumented immigrant Dreamers. It marked the fifth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but the date also came with fears that the program could end within weeks.
Put into effect by the Obama administration, the DACA program grants protection from deportation for 800,000 undocumented immigrant Dreamers, of which more than 8,000 live in Tennessee. The program gave these Dreamers, who came to the U.S. as young children, the ability to get a job, obtain a Social Security number and healthcare and gain better access to higher education. This allows these individuals to more fully participate in their and to contribute millions of dollars in taxes to the country.
DACA has allowed Dreamers to enhance the gifts God has given them and be thriving and productive individuals in society.
Despite the protection and benefits DACA has provided Dreamers since 2012, attorneys general from 10 states, including Tennessee, are threatening to sue the federal government if it does not repeal DACA by Sept. 5.
Instead of being able to celebrate DACA’s anniversary, Dreamers are worried that the program’s repeal will cause them to lose their jobs, financial stability, access to college and life with their families.
Franklin Arita, a senior at Christian Brothers University, told me, “Should DACA be repealed, I would be fearful of having fought so hard to go to college and get a degree, simply to let it catch dust on a shelf.”
“I wouldn’t be able to practice my career and I would have to go back to being a completely undocumented immigrant with no rights or privileges.”
Why should repealing DACA matter to us?
In spring 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped organize demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, and was arrested. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
What King meant is that injustice done to him is connected to the injustice done to other people around the world. If we allow injustice to happen to some people, we endanger everyone and we allow people to think it’s alright to act unjustly toward some people.
However, King wants us to know that we need to oppose injustice anywhere we see it.
Repealing DACA is an injustice and should matter to us for two main reasons.
First, the 800,000-plus Dreamers came to the country without any choice in the matter. More than likely, they didn’t know what was going on because they were so young. To repeal DACA would be to blame Dreamers for crimes they did not commit. That’s wrong.
Second, repealing DACA would lead to the separation of families due to deportation. Currently, there are zero laws or protections that would block U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees documented immigration, from handing over all of its information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which would allow them to deport Dreamers.
Where do we go from here?
Stand up for DACA. Contact Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery at (615) 741–3491 and ask him to support DACA. If you live in another state, call 1–832–610–3896 to get the name and phone number for your attorney general.
Sign. Sign the change.org petition pledging your support to prevent the DACA program from being repealed.
Support the Dream Act of 2017. In recent weeks, Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, which would replace the DACA program. This bill contains two key parts.
First, the bill expands the possible routes for Dreamers to earn legalized status and eventual permanent legal status. If passed, the bill would protect Dreamers from deportation and raise the entry age requirement from 16 to 18.
Second, the bill would switch Dreamers to Conditional Permanent Residency status. Those who have not been able to apply for DACA would need to apply for CPR status and pay a fee. After eight years with CPR status, an applicant would be able to apply for Legal Permanent Residency status.
Speak up on social media. Share your support for DACA and the Dream Act of 2017 on Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram using the hashtags #HereToStay, #DefendDACA and #DreamAct2017.
Walk across the street. Thousands of Dreamers live in Tennessee and Memphis — they are our neighbors. We have an opportunity to get to know them, take them to breakfast, lunch or dinner, and build authentic relationships with them.
Rondell Treviño is on staff at Woodland Presbyterian Church, and is founder/director of Memphis Immigration Project. He has a bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies from Belhaven University and a master’s degree in divinity from Capital Seminary. Treviño speaks about immigration from a Biblical perspective throughout the Southeast.
Previously, he worked as a Southeast church mobilizer for the Evangelical Immigration Table, where he met with legislators in Washington on immigration reform. Treviño is married to Laura Sofia Treviño.
This report is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today.