Last week, as millions of American students headed back to school, hundreds of thousands of young people – the Dreamers – learned the Trump administration would no longer protect them from deportation, as they strive to achieve the American Dream.
Let us be clear, this debate is not about immigration policy; it’s about fundamental decency. Dreamers were brought to our country as children and they have done all that has been asked of them: pursuing an education, contributing to building of this nation and registering with the government.
And now, the U.S. government is turning its back on them.
The difference between the America of today and the America of my grandparents is striking. When my Grandpa Rudolfo Arellano came to the U.S. from Mexico during the 1940s, he also faced harsh and painful discrimination. Yet many Americans also embraced him — including the federal government.
Like so many of the families of today’s Dreamers, my grandfather came to this country without a visa. He crossed the Texas border to escape vicious poverty and civil strife in his home state of Guanajuato that had left his family’s home pillaged and his faith in his home country lost.
My Abuelo so loved America, so believed in her goodness of spirit and in democracy, he volunteered to serve the U.S. during World War II, despite the fact that he was not a U.S. citizen and spoke almost no English. And in turn, his new country returned that generosity of spirit.
When the captain of the military ship on which my Grandpa served in the Pacific found out that my hardworking grandfather – who worked as a cook, feeding hundreds of American soldiers — was not a U.S. citizen, he christened him citizenship right then and there in an outdoor ceremony on the ship, complete with boozy blessing. My Abuelito’s citizenship papers document the extraordinary way he became an American — and gave my 46 cousins and me an American origin story which to this day marks our Mexican-American familia in so many ways.
There are times in our country’s history when we have gotten lost. Just as individual people do, societies can get lost, can listen to their smallest selves and most fearful voices. I believe we are living through this type of a moment in our country now.
The recent announcement by the Trump administration that they would no longer protect the law-abiding children of undocumented immigrants is just one example of how our nation’s present leadership has turned its back on the best of America’s welcoming spirit, a spirit that welcomed my grandfather into our country’s citizenry. Rescinding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a clear and brutal example of what a dark path we are on right now, and how we need to find again a better road that includes all Americans of every background on the journey to an inclusive America.
Like my own family’s experience, the plight of the Dreamers is familiar to generations of Americans, whose own immigrant journeys have been marked by rejection, struggle and persistence.
Americans of every background – Republicans and Democrats, teachers and students and many others – are standing in solidarity with the Dreamers, who remind me of my own grandparents who were so eager and proud to achieve the American dream.
Today we need to recapture that spirit in our country. I am proud to stand with our Dreamers and urge Congress to do so as well.