Fabiola Santiago

DREAMers, don’t let Supreme Court ruling derail quest for status

Valedictorian Larissa Yanin Martinez, who revealed she is an undocumented immigrant, delivers a speech during the McKinney Boyd High School Commencement ceremony at Prestonwood Baptist Church on June 3, in Plano, Texas.
Valedictorian Larissa Yanin Martinez, who revealed she is an undocumented immigrant, delivers a speech during the McKinney Boyd High School Commencement ceremony at Prestonwood Baptist Church on June 3, in Plano, Texas. TNS

The Supreme Court decision — or non-decision — on immigration leaves in legal limbo President Barack Obama’s protective executive orders on behalf of children raised in the United States as Americans.

The court’s failure to protect them against challenges from states like Texas and Florida — governed by political opponents of the president who want wholesale deportations — has had a devastating effect on the undocumented immigrant community.

“As if the lives of the people that it was trying to help came second to their message to Obama,” laments a talented young DREAMER from Miami, Giancarlo Tejeda, a University of Florida student whose undocumented status was once was a well-kept secret and who now has a bright future ahead. “These are honest hard working people who are simply trying to make a better life for themselves and their families here in the U.S.”

The five million people like Tejeda affected by the ruling know that we’re living in times when all over the world tribalism and hatred of The Other is pushing and imposing a new order in which people retrench and close doors.

That’s why no matter how much President Obama laments the “frustrating” and “heartbreaking” decision — and insists that the deferred action policies in place the last four years are not affected by the lack of a favorable decision affirming their legality — the fear of deportation, family separation and a return to the shadows has returned.

The states’ challenge is a blow not only to the children known as DREAMers — for the way they’ve grown up status-less but in hopeful embrace of the American Dream — but also to those who are more at risk of sudden separation and loss: the parents who brought them here.

Tejeda is right.

These suffering people — after all of these years of living here, Americans in every other way except in fundamental rights — are simply not seen as human enough to deserve our protections from deportation. Not human enough to hold work permits instead of being left to toil in the shadows, vulnerable to exploitation.

Shame on Texas and Florida, and every other state that has failed DREAMers by playing costly payback politics. May it backfire come November when so many Republican seats in Congress are vulnerable. Only political loss will force this lame Congress to get its act together.

To the DREAMers and their parents, I say this: Do not despair. Focus on the challenge ahead to work with a new Congress.

In this moment of uncertainty and fear, stay on the course of winning, if not a legal ruling, then the hearts of this nation. Dig in deeper, regroup, make friends of your enemies. You are Americans. Not Americans by the privilege geographical location of birth bestows, but Americans by choice of mind and heart.

You are Americans because you sat in the same schools as all of our children, took the same courses, and began to shape the profile of the young men and women you are today and will continue to be, milestone after milestone.

You are deserving of permanent status — and this country needs your energy and contributions. Be visible. Show them that you are their neighbor, their child’s friend, their coworker.

The Texas valedictorian who revealed she was an undocumented immigrant in her speech to her classmates did exactly what you all need to do. She was vilified on social media, but so what? That 4.95 GPA attracted a lot of insecure self-loathers. “So this valedictorian is a criminal,” tweeted a heartless man. But her story is remarkable — her mother crossed the border clutching her children, fleeing an abusive husband and a family and government that failed to protect her — and look at this American daughter now, Larissa Martinez, at the top of her graduating class.

It is when the wind blows against you that you’ve got to stay most focused on the goal, on the dream, on the task ahead. I know you know this. You’re survivors. The valedictorians among you will multiply as you go through yet another period of uncertainty. Let haters self-destruct in their pot of boiling negativity.

To those who can’t see the worth of these human beings, I say this: Yes, they overstayed tourist visas and crossed the border, but had you been in their circumstances, you might have done so too. That they sought a future by fleeing from unstable governments, abject poverty, gang warfare, violence — and many other unimaginable life experiences — doesn’t make them criminals.

It makes them human.

Those who have lived their American lives lawfully and productively, raising kids anyone of us would be proud to call their own, deserve to stay.

More than ever, shining a light is the way forward.