“Dreamers” or “DACA recipients” are in the news a lot right now. In times like these, when we are bombarded with the incessant noise of political jargon and policy arguments, it is easy to forget that those political discussions and policies affect the lives of real people.
And so, for a moment, I encourage you to try to imagine if it were you (or your child, niece, or grandson). If you were one of those real people whose future depended on the outcome of those conversations in Washington.
Imagine with me …. You’ve done everything right. You graduated from high school with good enough grades, test scores and extracurricular activities to get into a college of your choice. Or maybe college wasn’t the best option for you and you decided to join the military. You enlisted at 18 years old and have spent the past three years dedicating your life to the country you call home.
Or perhaps you have already graduated with your bachelor’s degree sometime in the past few years and now you’re navigating the realities of post-college life. You are working hard to pay off your student debt, hoping to obtain a job in your field of expertise or possibly pursue your master’s degree or Ph.D. Your life, by many standards, looks normal. You attend church on Sundays, volunteer at a food bank on Wednesdays, enjoy hanging with your friends on the weekends, and are working hard to make ends meet like many other young adults your age.
But now, because of the president’s Sept. 5 decision and Congress’ inability to pass a legislative solution to DACA, everything is about to change. You could lose your job, your access to education, your home and even your family. Your dreams and plans for the future have to be put on hold as you are forced to face the fear of leaving the only country you’ve ever known.
For 800,000 dreamers who came here as kids – 40,000 of whom live in Washington state – this is not just a bad dream or an irrational fear. If Congress fails to act, this is the future they face: lives ruined, families separated and consequently, our country’s economy and military hurt.
This issue hits close to home for me, because it is the reality for many of my friends I came to know while studying at Whitworth University. For much of my time studying alongside these friends, I had no idea what the term “undocumented” even meant. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college, after President Barack Obama issued the DACA executive order, that one of my friends felt safe enough to share her story with me. Her mom brought her to the U.S. when she was 6 months old in search of a better, safer, more stable life.
She grew up in Washington state, had a relatively normal childhood, graduated from high school and then worked incredibly hard to be able to come to Whitworth to get her undergraduate degree. We both had the same major and, consequently, had many of the same classes together. We connected on a variety of shared passions and interests. In many ways, this friend didn’t feel all that different from the rest of my classmates: passionate, articulate, hard-working, creative and studying in order to get a job that would help better our society. It was later, throughout our college experience together, that I began to understand more fully what being “undocumented” actually meant as I watched this friend face the unbearable reality and burden of not having the legal status and citizenship privileges that a simple piece of paper could provide.
Then on Sept. 5, when DACA was rescinded, our president essentially gave 800,000 DACA recipients, including my good friend, an expiration date. Instead of planning for their futures, Dreamers now have to prepare to live without the ability to drive, access health insurance, or work and pay for a college education. And without a path toward citizenship they now have to plan for the real possibility that they could face detention and deportation.
Congress has the ability to do something about this: Pass a commonsense, compassionate, legislative solution to DACA. Polls show that over 80 percent of the American public support the passing of a Dream Act. This should be simple. However, on Thursday, the Senate attempted to vote on a legislative solution to DACA and was unable to come to a compromise, placing political agendas ahead of the lives of the 1.8 million undocumented youth in our country. What we need now is a Dream Act that provides a solution for Dreamers without sacrificing the safety of their families or eliminating immigration policies that benefit all Americans.
Every day that passes without congressional action is another day where Dreamers’ lives hang in the balance. Imagine if it were you. We must urge our public officials to move beyond their own agendas and the agenda of our current administration and do something to protect Dreamers.
Melissa Abbott is a 2015 alumnus of Whitworth University. She works at World Relief Spokane as both a case manager in the extended services department and a community educator on immigration-related issues and policies.
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