By Michael Tan
Today the Trump administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has enabled nearly 800,000 young men and women who came to the United States as children to live and work without fear. President Trump proved once again that he is not a president for all Americans, but only a few. As with his recent pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, his message is clear: He stands with the nativists in rejecting communities of color and people of good will who understand that America’s greatest strength comes from inclusivity, not exclusion.
Attorney General Sessions claimed today at his press conference that DACA needs to end because it is unconstitutional. He’s dead wrong. He also claimed that ending DACA was “compassionate.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The rescinding of DACA is a cruel and disgraceful act. But these young people, known as Dreamers, who have used DACA to build their lives, will not be defeated. They will not quietly disappear into the shadows. They will continue to fight for the Dream Act, which will put youth who came here as a children on a path to citizenship. And they will fight to fix our broken immigration laws for all families in the future.
I know this because I have watched undocumented youth lead one of the most powerful civil rights movements in the United States today. I remember marching with hundreds of young immigrants in 2014 through the streets of Phoenix — in Maricopa County, home to then-Sheriff Arpaio — to protest deportations and then-Gov. Jan Brewer’s ban on issuing drivers’ licenses to Dreamers. The Arizona Dream Act Coalition, led by young immigrants and represented by the ACLU and partners, defeated that ban in court.
That march ended at an immigration detention center in downtown Phoenix, where the protesters confronted the officials who could banish them and their families from the country they know as their home. Chanting “undocumented and unafraid,” they demanded recognition of who they are — Americans in every way but on paper.
That rally in Phoenix reminded me that Dreamers belong in that long line of everyday heroes who have been denied full membership and participation in this society. And yet they stand up and fight, representing the best of our democratic traditions. Their spirit and tenacity — despite persecution and fear — demonstrate true courage in painful and dark times.
The philosopher Jacques Rancière writes that “politics exists because those who have no right to be counted as speaking beings make themselves of some account.” This occurs when the people who have historically not been counted demand that society confront the contradiction of their reality. Blacks, women, queers, the disabled, and many other oppressed groups have remade history in our country by changing who counts: through politicizing the contradictions they live through and demanding that they be counted. This is what democracy looks like.
Undocumented young immigrants are making the same demand of us today. The movement calls on Americans to face this national contradiction: Millions of people are an inextricable part of the fabric of this country and yet we have a system of immigration laws that denies their existence. This is a structure that promotes and extends racial and economic oppression. The Dreamer movement has challenged us to take responsibility for the fact that our country must change. And in doing so, it’s offered us the possibility of a new America that embraces us all.
DACA is only the beginning of what the movement can do. So mourn its end, but then stand up and fight for the people who are fighting for their lives, and who, in doing so, are fighting for the soul of our country.