Can't We Do Better?

   Protesters at a march in support of DACA in downtown Chattanooga. Photo by Peyden Valentine.

Protesters at a march in support of DACA in downtown Chattanooga. Photo by Peyden Valentine.

I firmly believe that if someone has the grit to walk, ride the tops of trains, and sometimes run for their lives to enter our country, they have every right to stay here. If they bring their children, their children deserve a life here, too. Moreover, those children, who are raised bilingually, educated in our school systems, and build relationships here are a part of our communities. That said, I have always supported the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, since it seems to stand for everything I just said that I believe.

However, in the wake of its current dismantling, I have done a little more research on it, and while it had great intentions, it was designed as a quick fix to a significant problem. When it was signed into law in 2012, it was to give immediate assurance to children, teens, and young adults brought to the States by immigrant parents that they will not be deported.

However, DACA was not a long-term solution to the problem because there is no path to citizenship built into it. It essentially grants the ability to legally live and work in the United States for two years, and when the two years are up the permit can be renewed. I know that DACA was and is still greatly celebrated, and its end is causing a lot of stress for its recipients. My question, however, is this: can’t we do better?

Those who receive DACA are still forced to live in a state of tension, fearing something like the exact event that has just transpired—the termination of DACA, and therefore the loss of protection and the right to work. I imagine that living in this tension—not to mention the stress of having parents who most likely have no path to citizenship—makes it difficult to thrive in the places they call home.

Furthermore, DACA doesn’t grant all the benefits of citizenship, such as the right to vote, or even the right to get a driver’s license in some states. If recipients of this program have been a part of our communities for so much of their lives, I think they should be able to participate and have a fully-acknowledged and respected voice, which is hard to do if they are living in citizenship-limbo.

Overall, I think DACA’s dismantling calls for a long-awaited, comprehensive immigration reform that allows both DACA recipients and other immigrants such as their parents a reasonable path to citizenship. I see this as a time to finally allow those who have made their homes, their families, their businesses, their communities, and their friendships here the full benefits and responsibilities of citizenship.

My biggest concern with recent events is that I don’t think DACA was terminated because the current administration saw it as obsolete and seeks to improve these people’s lives. Since the present climate favors a closed-border policy and a highly selective, merit-based immigration system, I fear that DACA’s termination will ultimately lead to the former recipients’ deportation.

So, back to my question: can’t we do better? I believe yes, we can. I believe that now is the time to call and write our congressmen—and tell our friends and family to do so too—and tell them that as DACA phases out, we want an immigration system that allows these valuable, innovative, highly-skilled friends, neighbors, and coworkers of ours to become citizens and grants them a legal voice so that they can contribute even more fully to our communities. Let’s make our voices heard not for a quick fix, but for a vessel for human flourishing.