The room seemed so empty yet was so full. I saw four bodies, yet I heard twelve voices. It was a cold February evening, when I walked to meet some of the bravest and hardworking people I know. Part support group and part political action group, these Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals(DACA) recipients met formally about once every month.
One active participant highlighted that, “We meet on an ad-hoc basis. Not just for gloom. Yes, we met a lot in the wake of Trump’s election. Even more now that he has gotten rid of DACA. But we also meet to celebrate and highlight each other’s success. Like last year when four of us graduated.”
The four people in the room were all current students of The Ohio State University. The remaining eight voices were participating via google hangout, because they had either graduated and moved or were away for an internship.
A female voice called everyone to attention by checking if everyone was there. She began the informal meeting by checking in on everyone.
One participant said, “I’m fine. Just trying to stay focused on midterms-exams, not elections- even though Trump is trying to deport me.” The room erupted in laughter. Comedic relief was to be a common theme throughout the night.
The tone shifted to a more a serious one when one participant shared that she was facing quite the mental health breakdown. She stated, “I’m on medical leave from work till the first week of April…. I go to a formal therapy program from nine to about three in the afternoon.”
The room was shocked. Mental health is a usual topic of discussion, but this particular participant seemed like she was on top of the world. She had not only graduated but also secured a job at a fortune five hundred company. Moreover, she had been mentoring two freshman DACA recipients for about three months. Often the one encouraging “radical self-love and self-care”, the other participants knew things were bad if she was the one teetering.
That same participant went on to share that all her “hard work might of have been in vain.” All was fine at work and she was getting to know her new city, when the DACA program came to a halt. October of 2018, when her work permit and DACA status are set to expire, came to preoccupy her mind and lead her to where she was: paralyzed by the thought of losing her job and possibly being deported.
The other participants all had their “dates” at the forefront of their own minds. “November next year. I just got my renewal”, one chirped. Another added, “My renewal application is still pending. I think I made it before the cutoff. I’m good for about another month.” Almost in a hushed voiced a newer member retorted, “Mine expired yesterday.” The room fell silent for the first time since the meeting began. She clarified, “I have an application in for renewal. My lawyer says it is fifty-fifty if it goes through or not.”
Condolences and advice were given and received. Neither self-pity nor woe were present. Rather, a feeling of we-must-do-something was occupying the room. Political strategy was heavily discussed. It was decided which members of the group were to field media requests and which members were to give interviews.
Several members highlighted their recent trip to Washington D.C. to lobby for a “clean” Dream Act. Anecdotes about Senator Portman’s(R-OH) willingness to listen to them incited a variety of reactions. Many doubted his intentions, but some were hopeful his mind could be swayed. I belong to the former group.
Discussion got heated when I stated that I don’t see a path for a “clean” Dream Act to pass both houses of Congress under current circumstances. The controversy stemmed from my alluding that nothing could be done until the Democrats won more seats. I was suggesting that Democrats wait and not work across the aisle for a Dream Act that would be sullied with funding for a new border wall, the ending of lottery visas, and a ten year wait for citizenship by childhood arrivals.
I knew I had fumbled by trying to do the political calculus in my head and speaking freely when a dear friend stated, “I’m done waiting. My life is not some carrot in a sick political game.”
A medical student who was the most senior in the group helped settle things down by stating,” I want you guys all to remember this: You are not your status…And none of this mess is really about you. It’s about us but it’s not about us.”
Somewhere between her nonchalant and matter-of-fact delivery I truly heard her. She had related a grand concept in simple terms.
This “immigration crisis” America seems to be in the midst of actually has nothing to do with immigrants. Instead, America is asking itself whether it is a white ethno-state or a civil one. Americans are not having a dialogue about whether children who immigrate to this country through no choice of their own are Americans. Rather, Americans are a having a dialogue about what America truly is.
American democracy is not being hollowed in one swift excavation. Rather, it is being chipped at one moral question at a time. The question of what to do with young immigrants who grew up in this country and see it as their only home is one in a series of questions Americans must answer under this presidential administration. The state of our democracy rests on their answers. Fellow Americans, if I may use the phrase, I hope you engage your conscience and defend our democracy.
Photo by Jose Luis Magana—AP, Creative Commons Zero license.