It is one of those times when we won’t have to wait for the judgment of history to learn the verdict of history.
More than 800,000 DACA immigrants now sit, stew and wonder if the land they long yearned for is the great nation they long dreamt about.
The challenge here has as much to do with politics as with purpose, with messaging as much as the messengers who carry it. It’s all about our nation’s conscience.
At its core, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was designed by the last president as a temporary fix to a chronic issue: lax enforcement of American immigration laws, which were designed to make the nation’s borders more than imaginary lines in the sand.
Yet given the rancor that surrounds the program today, one would think DACA stands for “Damn Again, Curse Again.” In the name of all that’s good and mighty, it’s time we changed that message to something more wholly American: “Dream Again, Care Again.”
DACA, the program which gave children of illegal immigrants a shot at the American Dream, has been better than imagined. These young people who were brought here as children have grown up to become doctors and lawyers, teachers and firefighters, soldiers and business owners who have infused the nation with fresh examples of hard work and hard-earned achievement.
By any measure, the children of DACA breathe in America, believe in America and bleed for America. Yet today these “Dreamers” face a nightmare scenario where instead of counting sheep, they are counting the days before they could be put out to pasture. Permanently. They would be sent away despite their contributions and despite national polls showing a huge majority pulling for them.
Why would America turn its back on them now? Why would we visit the transgression of their parents for coming here the wrong way by punishing those who chose to go the right way?
If DACA goes by the boards, these young people would lose their homes, their businesses and their jobs. The rest of us would lose something bigger: our claim to “specialness,” of living in a nation driven to do the right thing — even if it means bending a little, giving a little, to get there. How can we call ourselves a nation of immigrants without welcoming them? How can we cloak ourselves in Lady Liberty’s promise (“give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free”) if we so willingly break it?
But we cannot stop with fixing DACA and pretending all is well. That would ignore the harsh realities of a world grown ever more dangerous, and a nation’s borders grown ever more porous. This must also be addressed, and soon, if America wants to remain secure and free. We have not engaged in any major revisions of American immigration policy in forever, and that just won’t cut it anymore.
Yet the president and the Congress aren’t the only ones on trial here. You and I are also on the clock, as pangs of personal conscience compete with chilling threats to our national security. One defines who we are, as human beings. The other speaks to where we’re going and whether we can get there safely. In the real world, they are inseparable.
That’s why the moral imperative is as clear as the remedy. First, create a pathway to citizenship for the children of DACA. They’re here, and given what they’ve given us already, they deserve to be here.
Next, fix and update immigration policy. Enforce the laws on the books, further secure our borders and, most importantly, clarify what citizenship is, how one petitions to gain it, what it takes to keep it, what it takes to lose it. This is a conversation we’ve put off for far too long because the rhetoric was as hot as the demonization of those who’ve been trying to fix it.
Do both, and the “Dreamers” will fulfill their dreams but America will fulfill its dream as well.
Do both, and the only losers are bigots and bullies looking for their few minutes of fame to hide a lifetime of shame.
Do both, and Washington can proclaim it finally got something right by doing something right.
Martin Luther King Jr., who understood a thing or two about intolerance, once cautioned all of us that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
This issue really matters.
And we will be silent no more.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in St. Petersburg and the first Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.