By KANDACE VALLEJO
When nationally syndicated CNN columnist Ruben Navarrette declared last month that DREAMers (you know, the kids who brought us Deferred Action last year) “deserve a scolding,” people responded strongly to Navarrette’s analysis of the DREAMers as a group of “entitled” brats who were risking the movement for everyone else (including their parents). For many people, DREAMers are viewed as heroes, aligned with Martin Luther King and others as the potential vanguard of the civil rights revolution for Latinos. And I think these folks are right. DREAMers absolutely do need to be congratulated, placed in leadership roles, and listened to.
But the fact of the matter is, the battles they’ve won so far aren’t enough. Any version of DREAM Act, any amount of Deferred Action approvals, any number of Provisional Stateside Waivers granted – will still leave out thousands. Thousands of sisters, grandmothers, uncles, and brothers who won’t qualify for these piecemeal protections. My mother is among those.
My mom’s a survivor, that’s for sure. Brought to the US at five years old, raised mostly by older siblings in a small town on the outskirts of Chicago, she started work at 13. There were no ESL classes at her school and the word multicultural was unheard of; she learned English the hard way, the way a lot of immigrants of her generation did – forced into the classroom and teased on the playground. She finished high school at 16 and moved out. She never went to college, had me at 21, and has worked as an administrative assistant most of her life. And while her and my father tried to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, our utilities were shut off, the car repossessed a few times, and our mortgage foreclosed on long before the housing bubble was even dreamed up. Later on, she was arrested after she called the police to escort her into her old apartment after separating from her violently abusive second husband, and subsequently deported. I was 17 at the time.
A few days after her deportation, I received a call from San Antonio. She had walked back across the border.
This happened over ten years ago. Today, she has her own place, a good job, and she’s happy; but she has no retirement plan, no healthcare to combat a slew of ongoing chronic illnesses, and lives paycheck to paycheck; any long-term plan to provide for her well-being will have to be financed by the both of us. Sometimes I pay her rent, the phone bill, or toss her some cash for gas. Every day she drives to work is another risk she’s taking, another possible step closer to being torn away from me, and everything she knows, again.
For people like my mother, there is little hope. We’ve consulted lawyers, organizers, and advocate agencies over the years. She has a criminal record for writing hot checks to pay for things like my tuition, her prescriptions, and car loans, for example. Because of this, and thanks to early iterations of Secure Communities, she was deported. Her record plus her choice to re-enter now bars her from any chance of being granted another visa, and citizenship is completely out of the question.
This is our reality, and while we’ve both adjusted to it, the bottom line is: it sucks. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can demand more.
While I don’t exempt my mother from the personal responsibility of having made certain choices, I recognize her mistakes as an attempt to survive in a world that tells us all we’re nothing if not for the schools we go to and the places where we work, and even less if we’re brown, black, or any shade of standard deviation from the (white) norm.
An immigration policy for my mom would start with amnesty for everyone who is already here (not just those in “good standing”), and a reasonable path to citizenship for future immigrants. An immigration policy that I will support would include demilitarizing the border, reforming NAFTA, and allow for the free migration of people, not just goods, money, and services.
Amnesty was won in 1986 by the hard work of countless dedicated organizers pushing Reagan to do something about the crisis of poverty and violence that was driving people here. It was passed by one of the most conservative presidential administrations in my lifetime. To accept less than this from the nation’s first Nobel Peace Prize winning Black President is absurd.
So yes. Navarrette is right – the DREAMers are pushy. They’re demanding way more than a lot of people are willing to ask for, and they should. But we need to keep in mind that the DREAM Act, Deferred Action, and Provisional Waivers are all just steps along the way. Piecemeal protections aren’t enough and never will be – we can dream bigger, demand more. This is how movements win.
An immigration reform for my mom will allow her and millions like her to have the stable, dignified future we all deserve. One where work will eventually lead to a comfortable retirement and healthcare doesn’t mean waiting until it’s an emergency and winding up in the ER. A future where my generation’s children can learn grandma’s recipes from grandma herself; where parents can hug their children through the hard times and we can support and care for our parents in their old age.
If we want amnesty for anyone, we have to demand it for everyone. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll get there; if we’re smart, maybe we’ll get halfway. But halfway is better than what we’ve got now, and it’s halfway to where I want to be.
We can’t accept anything less.