Langston Hughes once asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”
In the poem by that name, Hughes gave us a call to arms for activism, but warned that — without struggle — a dream may “dry up like a raisin in the sun”.
Over the past few years, I bore witness to a dream; though attacked, one that will not dry up or even sag, to use Hughes’ parlance. It is the dream of American youth who have taken to the streets, been arrested, and are now changing our collective heart to realize the merit of their cause.
They are prophetically entitled the DREAMers — the young undocumented adults to came to this land, often as infants, but have been demonized by xenophobes and an arcane immigration system that labels them as “illegal.” Though in their predicament through no fault of their own, they face arrest and deportation, yet they dream of a higher education.
They know what few realize — they are anything but illegal. Indeed, central to criminal law concepts is the notion that in order for one to be culpable for a wrong, one needs the mindset, or in legal parlance, the intent to do wrong. DREAMers, by virtue of crossing the border with their parents, by any definition, especially a legal one, did not and could not have the mindset or intent to do wrong.
Over the last several years I have had the good fortune of working with civil rights champions. As a child of the 1960s, I only read of the heroes of that era. Yet, when I was on bus tours to the state capital to protest anti-immigrant bills, or at prayer vigils before the offices one of many local politicians, I was in awe of these DREAMers.
Unlike myself, who has his status and is well versed in the law, many of these young activists were undocumented. They wore their caps and gowns, and while I perhaps looked a bit out of place with my gray hair wearing a business suit, I was stunned, at times to the point of tears at their bravery.
Perhaps somewhat like the civil-rights heroes of the 1960s, they faced ridicule and even arrest, though thankfully not the violence of the heroes of our past. I nevertheless recall the fear I felt for them when on a bus I witnessed their reaction when ‘minutemen’ and a tea party activists were just outside. Their response was to put on their caps and gowns and proceed.
They did so knowing their actions could lead to what they were fighting against — deportation. The only word that came to me then and now is — heroic!
This is perhaps why the folly of states like Arizona, Alabama and Georgia are not only being consistently spurned in our federal courts, their own economies and residents are being punished for naive and shortsighted xenophobic scapegoating. This is perhaps why our president took action. Yet others of a different political ilk too often act out of base instincts, calling for “self-deportation,” not realizing, or not caring, about the impact such statements make on the lives of all Latinos and Latinas, irrespective of their immigrant status. Their hate will not defer the dreams of our youth.
The president’s initiative was the recently passed deferred action program. It is the process whereby young undocumented adults can apply for temporary legal status and avoid deportation. Though scorned by the extreme right and those who recently filed a federal law suit — that will ultimately be dismissed — it is an unquestionably legal process that is one way to ensure that the dreams of our youth continue.
While I and others will tirelessly fight for the passage of the DREAM Act, I am proud that, along with a small army of DREAMers, I am part a handful of attorneys providing free deferred action clinics to those who need help across the state.
We will continue to do our small part to ensure that this dream will not be deferred.
Ediberto Roman is professor of law and director of citizenship and immigration initiatives at Florida International University.