This week President Trump announced that the program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will be rescinded. DACA was enacted during the Obama administration to allow certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of protection from deportation and renewable work permits. Ending DACA is not only cruel but it goes against the human rights and dignity of immigrants. Around 800,000 individuals would not only lose their rights to legally work in the country but they would also be subject to deportation, separating them from their families and taking them away from the only country they have known as home, to a country they barely know and where they often lack the resources to prosper.
When announcing the end of DACA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that the Obama immigration policy is an “unconstitutional exercise of authority,” and added: “failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism.”
Do not let the Trump administration’s “law and order” reasoning fool you. His administration has no respect for the laws of this country. This was evident when he pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who was convicted of criminal contempt for violating a court order to stop racially profiling Latinos and turning them over to federal immigration authorities solely on the belief that they were undocumented without any reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed.
Arpaio’s practice was illegal because it racially profiled Latinos leading to the detention of people who are citizens or legal residents, just because of the color of their skin. Moreover, Arpaio held immigrants in inhumane conditions; in outdoor tents where temperatures were as high as 141 degrees. Surrounded by an electrified fence, they were put in chains and subjected to humiliating practices. Moreover, Arpaio failed to meet the health needs of the people he detained, for example denying them basic sanitary items, forcing women to continue using sheets and pants that were soiled from their menstrual cycles. He once compared the detention center to a concentration camp.
One cannot claim to respect the laws of this nation, and be concerned about the “humanitarian consequences” of DACA, while pardoning Joe Arpaio, a person who violated the human rights of immigrants, racially profiled Latinos, and disobeyed the law by choosing not to comply with a judicial order. Such contradiction reveals the hypocrisy of the Trump administration. Most importantly, it reveals the fact that the “law and order” rhetoric is just a pretext to fulfill Trump’s anti immigrant agenda by any means without taking into account the humanity or rights of immigrants.
Most importantly, the DACA program is not a risk to the nation, as Jeff Sessions would have you believe. DACA does not lead to terrorism or more crime. In fact, DACA recipients’ records are highly scrutinized. Requirements to qualify for the program include: you can not have been convicted “of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor” or “have more than three misdemeanors of any kind,” and that you are not a “threat to national security or public safety.” Thus, eligibility for the program is based on a nearly perfect criminal record and doesn’t lead to terrorism and is not a threat to national security.
Furthermore, an online survey conducted by Center for American Progress and Tom K. Wong, a professor at the University of California reported that the median age of entry into the United States for a DACA recipient is 6 years old. This means that for most DACA recipients this country is the only place they have ever known as home for most of their lives. Additionally, Stripping them away from their right to make a living and contribute to the country by being able to pursue their dreams and aspirations would result in a loss of $433.4 billion from the country’s national GDP over the next decade.
Trump’s DACA announcement is a continuation of the harsh immigration policies under his administration. On June 13, 2017, Thomas Homan, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said during a congressional hearing, “If you’re in this country illegally and you committed a crime by being in this country, you should be uncomfortable, you should look over your shoulder. You need to be worried. No population is off the table.”
Such a statement is reflective of the Trump administration’s immigration policy: to criminalize the undocumented community not because they have broken any laws once inside the country but rather because they lacked the proper paper work to enter the country. Such policy is inhumane because it strips immigrants of their right to make a living, to have equal access to higher education, equal access to medical care, to have the ability to fulfill their dreams and aspirations - rights that everyone should have regardless of their immigration status, ethnicity, or gender identity.
Additionally, such policies force the immigrant community to live in fear of losing their freedom and of being separated from their families. During Trump’s first 100 days in office the arrest of immigrants with no criminal records increased by 150% (going from approximately 4,200 in 2016 to more than 10,800 during the same period of 2017). Under his command, ICE has arrested people on the streets, in their homes, when they are traveling to work or other places, and in court houses, often leaving their loved ones traumatized.
America needs to stop seeing immigrants as “foreign aliens,” invaders who came into this country to take away the jobs and resources of U.S. citizens. We have to abandon the rhetoric that undocumented people must learn to wait in line to come into the country “the right way.” Because the reality is that there is no such line because no legal option exists for many of them. As the American Immigration Council reports, immigration to the United States on a temporary or permanent basis is generally limited to three different routes: employment, family, reunification, or humanitarian protection. Most immigrants do not qualify because they do not have the necessary family or employment relationships and often do not qualify for humanitarian relief.
Immigrants come into this country in order to flee poverty, violence, and persecution, which are, in many instances, circumstances that the United States government has helped perpetuate with its involvement abroad. In Latin America for example, the United States was a key actor in overthrowing democratically elected governments, invading countries, backing military dictatorships, and supporting economic policies to undermine Latin American democracies. Thus, the United States has many times been a key actor in helping to destabilize the countries from which immigrants flee. We cannot then turn a blind eye and criminalize migrants when our foreign policies have caused the economic instability, poverty, and violence in their nations of origin leading them to migrate to this country in search of a better life.
Our Declaration of Independence reads: “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Through our history however, the United States has failed to live up to these ideals. From its inception it flourished on slave labor. And even though the 13th amendment was enacted, the oppression of immigrants and people of color continue. In 1942 for example, the United States relocated U.S. citizens into concentration camps inside the United States simply because they were of Japanese descent. Today people of color and immigrants are disproportionately incarcerated, denied equal access to higher education and their voices are being silenced due to restrictive voting laws.
Undocumented immigrants are being systematically oppressed. Their labor is exploited to benefit business owners; their rights are ignored, and unrecognized. They live in the shadows, spend days burning beneath the sun working in agriculture, freezing during winter to build the houses you live in, scrapping together dollar after dollar after cleaning tables or cooking your food, without complaining, for fear of deportation, fear of being taken away from their families and from the communities they have built. Their only hope is that the children they brought in with them can one day reach the American Dream that was denied to them.
Immigrant rights are human rights, basic human rights are not meant to be political chips to be gambled with every time a new administration comes to power. It is time that we all stand up for the rights of immigrants to demand that their human rights be respected. Their freedom, their families, rights and dreams are under attack.
We must demand immigration reform on the federal level to benefit not only dreamers but also their families. We must pressure our state officials to enact laws to protect immigrants, give them access to state educational financial aid, allow them to qualify for driver’s licenses, and truly create sanctuary cities where their rights and dignity are being respected and where they can live without fear. We must join DACA recipients and all of our undocumented community in mass demonstrations around the country to show the Trump administration that an attack on one member of our community is an attack on all.
We must all RESIST.
Ana Guillcatanda is an activist for immigration reform and workers rights in New York City. She is currently a law student and Community Director with the Liberal Party of New York.