Dream Act Now!
Last evening I sat in on a webinar for Hispanic Heritage Month featuring Congressman Raul Ruiz and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Trinity ’62). Rep. Ruiz, a doctor, is chair of the House Hispanic Caucus. The conversation focused on the urgency of getting Congress — particularly the Senate — to act to pass the Dream Act that has been pending for too many years. At one point I put a note in the chat room about Trinity’s 100+ Dreamers, and Speaker Pelosi later mentioned that fact and gave a shout out to the Dreamers at Trinity and lifted our students up as great examples of the reasons why Congress must act soon.
The most recent battle over the status of undocumented persons comes in the ruling several days ago by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that the Obama Administration acted illegally in creating DACA in 2012 without following certain rules of administrative procedure. The names of the plaintiffs listed on the 5th Circuit opinion read like the Who’s Who of States Opposing Justice:
Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kansas, Mississippi — these are the same states that are imposing extreme bans on women’s rights, on the teaching the truth about American history and slavery, on protections for the rights of LGBTQ persons, states that eagerly ban books while rejecting common sense gun control. While the oppressive postures of these states toward a range of civil and human rights is longstanding, what is of grave concern in 2022 is the fact that those state attorneys general and governors now have a Supreme Court composed of a majority of like-minded arch conservatives who are likely to rule in favor of official state oppression of the rights of persons on the margins, including undocumented persons.
The fact that a large majority of American citizens want a pathway to citizenship for undocumented young persons, those known as “Dreamers,” has no sway over the mean spirits of the governors, states attorneys general, judges and justices who have the power to make law outside of popular votes. The manipulation of the judiciary is one of the greatest scandals of contemporary U.S. politics. While the electorate made its choice clear in the 2020 presidential election, repudiating the Trump era (despite the big lie claims about the election), the damage was already done to the federal judiciary. With lifetime appointments, the federal judges and Supreme Court justices will be on the bench for decades, well beyond the reach of American voters.
While declaring DACA illegal, the 5th Circuit ruling (like the original District Court ruling) kept DACA in place for those who already have it, but prohibits new DACA approvals. In essence, about 600,000 DACA recipients have this minimal protection for a period of time while remaining in limbo for the long-term, and meanwhile, their bothers and sisters and all who do not have DACA remain in the shadows. One of the most grievous immediate consequences of the DACA limbo is this: having DACA confers some limited permissions including, most importantly, the right to work — and many DACA students here at Trinity and elsewhere work to support their families, and when they graduate, they go on to good jobs in professions including nursing, teaching, business and other arenas. Dreamers who work pay taxes and contribute considerable money, time and talent to building their communities But the ongoing threat to DACA means that their ability to work could be prohibited if the courts choose to strike down DACA entirely; and for undocumented students without DACA, there is no right to work, leaving these students in a state of perpetual stress, poverty, and wondering whether they will ever be able to have normal lives.
Congress has been talking about a permanent solution to the DACA crisis for many years, but all the talk in the world has produced not a single legislative result. President Biden, like Obama before him, has tried to find a solution through executive authority, but that authority is the crux of the litigation and likely to fail in the final court rulings.
The fact that there is widespread majority agreement — corporate leaders, religious leaders, academic leaders, many others all agree — about the need to pass the Dream Act or a similar measure should compel Congress to act — but the failure to achieve the legislation is proof positive of the corruption of the Senate, in particular, when it comes to placing human rights values ahead of the personal power interests of the elected officials. Too many senators are beholden to narrow interests that have a cruel, mean-spirited, inhumane view of immigrants and refugees.
In response to the decision of the 5th Circuit, Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, stated:
“In light of this troubling development, we reaffirm our solidarity with the Dreamers of this country whose lives and futures once again hang in the balance. We implore Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to provide a permanent solution for all Dreamers out of respect for their God-given dignity. Until we have that solution, each new challenge to the DACA program creates further uncertainty and anguish for hundreds of thousands of people and their families. Dreamers are integral members of our communities. For many, the United States is the only home they know. But despite their daily contributions to the welfare of our nation, Dreamers are not afforded the same liberties as their native-born neighbors. This is a grave injustice unbefitting a moral society, and it must be remedied without further delay.”
Trinity will continue to work in solidarity with other organizations seeking permanent solutions to protect and lift up our Dreamers. Trinity and I are part of the Presidents Immigration Alliance, more than 600 colleges and universities working together on advocacy and action for all immigrant students. We are also so grateful for our partnership with TheDream.US that provides scholarships and other kinds of support for Dreamers at Trinity and colleges around the nation. And many, many thanks to the students and alumnae of The Butterfly Network, Trinity’s student organization for undocumented students, a remarkable convening of strong, powerful and determined women who, I am convinced, will ultimately prevail in their quest for justice.