By Alex P. Vidal
“A broken immigration system means broken families and broken lives.”—Jose Antonio Vargas
CHESSKA was only nine years old when her Michigan-based mother, Maribeth, “borrowed” her from Chesska’s father, Enrico, in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo sometime in February 2007.
Now living with her new husband, a retired US Navy officer in Flamington Hills, Michigan, Maribeth, a former FM radio deejay, had been estranged from Enrico for 10 years years prior to Maribeth’s decision to bring Chesska to the United States.
Now 24 years old, Chesska was a shoo-in for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), “a temporary stopgap measure” introduced by former President Barrack Obama in 2012 for tens of thousands of individuals who grew up in the United States.
The program gives safety from deportation and allows undocumented immigrants who came to the US as minors before June 15, 2007 to work or attend school legally, if they meet certain requirements.
Under the program, Chesska and her fellow DACA recipients known as “Dreamers” were allowed to temporarily work without fear of deportation.
There are currently more than 640,000 DACA recipients or “Dreamers” living in the U.S.
But after 10 years, the “Dreamers” continued to have nightmares as Congress has not passed any permanent protections for them.
Enrico, who fought with Maribeth in a failed bid to take her daughter back to the Philippines, was hoping Chesska would petition him if she was granted a citizenship now that Maribeth didn’t “return” her.
Prospects are looking dimmer now that a federal judge halted new DACA applications in 2021, and even the stopgap envisioned by Mr. Obama could die.
The case, from Republican-led litigation, could be headed to an unfriendly Supreme Court.
Democrats have long hoped for comprehensive immigration reform, but an all-or-nothing approach has repeatedly failed.
According to Los Angeles Times’ Jean Guerrero, the party should now be open to relatively modest victories and must pursue those aggressively.
“As a start, that means forcing Senate votes on stand-alone bills,” wrote Guerrero.
“The Dream and Promise Act, which would give Dreamers legal permanent residency, passed the House last year with bipartisan support. Some on both sides of the aisle have also backed the America’s Children Act to protect youths known as documented Dreamers, who have temporary legal status because of their parents’ visas and whose permission to stay in the U.S. expires when they turn 21.”
The GOP has reportedly thwarted protections for Dreamers for more than two decades.
The first Dream Act was introduced in 2001, and Republicans worried that some Dreamers would win scholarships and grants over native-born children.
That anxiety has morphed into full-blown “replacement” paranoia, combined with panic about more people at our southern border, added Guerrero.
“It’s all a matter of mindset, of course. Republicans could just as easily look at Dreamers as a ready workforce during a labor shortage that’s aggravating inflation, or perhaps even (God forbid!) as human beings,” she explained.
“Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif) told me it’s “frustrating to no end” when Republican colleagues express sympathy for Dreamers, while refusing to protect them until the border is ‘under control.’ They can’t seem to separate Dreamers, raised in the same country as them, from new border arrivals.”
About 800,000 Dreamers have received DACA work permits and deportation protections, but the total number of undocumented people brought here as children is closer to 3.6 million, including roughly 100,000 high school students who graduated this year and never qualified for DACA because it excludes anyone who came after 2007. Then there are the approximately 200,000 documented Dreamers who never qualified for DACA, either.
Guerrero feared that “time is running out to protect all of these Dreamers. Just as Donald Trump held numerous reality TV-style roundtables to demonize immigrants, President Biden could organize livestreamed events to amplify the Dreamers’ voices and rally support for them.”
“We need to hear from high school graduates like Hanna, an 18-year-old Los Angeles resident whose last name I can’t use without endangering her existence in the country she has called home since age 4. She has lived in fear since seventh grade, when Trump was elected president,” concluded Guerrero.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)