A few days ago, while walking around my block, I was stopped by a neighbor. We exchanged pleasantries, expressed dismay over the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and he asked me how school was going. As I was slowly trying to inch back toward my house, he asked me very simply and directly what I thought about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
DACA is a program implemented through an executive order issued by the Obama administration that allows undocumented young adults who were brought to the United States as children temporary protection from deportation. I articulated my support for it, as well as disapproval at the Trump administration’s recent decision to challenge it. My neighbor disagreed. He, like many others who make excuses for the president’s actions, believes that this is a positive development that will force Congress to work together and come to a decision about what to do with Dreamers over the next six months. I expressed my lack of faith in Congress – a Congress so similar to the one that consistently failed to pass meaningful legislation concerning this issue that it spurred Obama to sign the executive order in the first place.
I have no doubt in my mind that this was not a positive action taken by President Trump, nor was it meant to be. However, my friendly neighborhood conversation made me realize that I did not know enough about what DACA does, who it affects and what could happen if no legislation is passed within the six-month window. I went to Dr. Nancy Hiemstra, an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies here at Stony Brook, who researches immigration detention and deportation and stresses the importance of DACA.
“DACA allows [recipients] to work legally, pay taxes, join the military, pursue higher education, access financial aid and get driver’s licenses. DACA has allowed recipients to pursue new opportunities, support themselves and their families and contribute to the U.S. economy. Around 800,000 people now have DACA, including over 40,000 New Yorkers,” Dr. Hiemstra said.
These participants would be put at tremendous risk if DACA were to end. “Recipients would fall back into undocumented status – not all at once, but over a two-year time period, according to when they applied/renewed. They would lose their jobs, lose access to financial aid, lose driver’s licenses, stop paying taxes on work income and be at risk of detention and deportation in any encounters with police – even just a routine traffic stop, or if a police officer decides to racially profile them and ask for their ID,” Dr. Hiemstra continued.
David Anthony Clark, a junior applied mathematics and statistics and biology double major, is the vice president of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) and the organizer of Thursday’s campus march against the DACA decision. He stresses that the decision will affect those at the intersections of marginalized identities the most, particularly women.
“The rescinding of DACA will primarily affect Latina women, immigrant women, and undocumented women,” Clark said.
He went on to talk about how queer and trans undocumented DACA recipients might be especially affected. “Many of the countries to which Dreamers would be deported, and from which undocumented people are fleeing, have horrific LGBT rights records. Many of these countries have criminalized same-sex relationships, and have frequent cases on hate crimes against queer and transgender individuals.”
My conversation with my neighbor made me think about who we listen to when it comes to specific social justice issues and why. I am of the opinion that you are the expert on your own life, and groups of people who are affected by certain issues and problems the most are the best people to create solutions to those problems. But why, exactly, is this so important? “It is important to center the voices of those most affected by this issue because only they can best articulate their needs and concerns. Undocumented people are best suited to come up with and advocate solutions to their problems,” Clark explains. As Dr. Hiemstra says, “This is an issue that gets at the heart and soul of American identity and values. It is an issue that reveals the tangled, nasty connections throughout American history between race, power, privilege, and identity.”
If you (or any of your neighbors) want Congress to act swiftly and justly to protect DACA recipients, David, Dr. Hiemstra and I all recommend calling your representative and expressing your opinions.