By Florentina Staigers
I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable telling people I have family members who have come here illegally to the United States. I wonder if they will judge my loved ones because they did not “wait in line” or do things the “right way.” Some of them do not speak English and they are working in jobs that might have gone to Americans, so I hesitate to reveal this information. Whether or not they came here illegally doesn’t matter to me; I still love them. They are my cousins. They are my uncles. They are the family of my El Salvadoran mother. They have come here because they want better for themselves and for their children.
I think this is what gets lost when we talk about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. We characterize the DACA beneficiaries, or the dreamers, as a particular subset of illegal immigrants who did nothing wrong because they were children when their parents brought them here to the United States. By carving them out as special, often times there is an unspoken implication that their parents did do something wrong.
Although we are a nation of laws, we have not always been, nor are we always a nation of humane laws. Our laws have sanctioned slavery, segregation, and discrimination. Our immigration laws too, have a long and complex history of propounding racist ideologies and constructing systems of privilege. We cannot always rely on laws when the rules of the game are made for the benefit of those making the rules. We must consider what we do when the laws themselves are the problem.
If immigrants felt they could come legally, they would, but our immigration process is broken and it is does not meet the needs of immigrants. As of this month, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service is only now processing visas from 1994 and 1995 from places such as Mexico and the Philippines. These are for family members who wish to come here legally to be reunited with their American families: mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, and spouses, etc.
DACA helps us move in the direction of more compassionate and humane laws. Many people are able to support DACA and open their hearts to children and young adults who clearly did not have a choice, but I also would like them to open their hearts to those who did have a choice. Their “choice” was to take the risk of coming here illegally or watching their children go hungry, join gangs, or become victims of violence. These parents chose to do the best they could for their children. They are dreamers too. Of course, I want to see DACA continued because I care about our youth; I will be calling and writing my legislator. I also hope that one day we can move beyond our focus on DACA to include others who did not have a real choice. So I’ll also tell my legislator to fix our broken immigration system.