Hard Work by Brave People Made House Passage of the Dream and Promise Act Possible, but Much Work Remains
THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Berenice Gonzalez
JUNE 7, 2019
The coming-of-age experience of someone with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), like me, is very different from that of someone who is fully undocumented. Though my family did have to come up with an almost prohibitive sum of money for the application fee, the benefits DACA provided me meant that I was relatively safe and had the autonomy to pursue the endeavors of my choosing. This was all made possible by the fully undocumented freedom fighters who came before me.
I remember the first time I saw groups of undocumented young people rallying in caps and gowns on the steps of state capitols across the country. Video clips of their stoles, posters, and chants for “Education, not deportation!” flashed across my family’s television screen. I was overjoyed to see other students paving a way for me to access my dreams of higher education by speaking their truth to garner support and momentum for our movement across the country.
I also remember my mother saying that we should be thankful that the American government had not deported us, by which she meant undocumented students, and advising that we not call attention to ourselves, for fear that we might be retaliated against. This was around the 2010 incarnation of proposed Dream Act legislation that aimed to provide immigrant youth with a long-term pathway to U.S. citizenship, nearly two years before work authorization and protection from deportation would become available to some of us under DACA, President Obama’s temporary administrative solution for our situation. Her comment made clear to me that these students were making the ultimate sacrifice of opening themselves to attacks, knowing that they could never walk back their coming out as undocumented or any of the consequences that accompanied this brave act.
This past Tuesday, while waiting in the U.S. House of Representatives gallery for the vote on H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, I was fully aware of the meaning of my presence there at that historic moment. In the teary eyes of my companions, some of whom have DACA, others who’ve received temporary protected status (TPS) or deferred enforced departure (DED), I saw the legacy of what the generations before us had put in motion without any certainty that they would ever see it come to fruition. Our presence in a space that was not created with black and brown immigrants in mind was a testament to the power of our communities.
As the “yea” votes reached the necessary threshold for passage of the bill, a couple hundred representatives on the House floor turned to face the families, organizers, and advocates in the gallery to wave at and congratulate us. Each cheer felt like a recognition of the various plights our communities endured to achieve this victory.
Though I take pride in this moment, the passage of this bill in the House in no way means that we can afford to stop fighting. After all, to take effect the bill still would need to clear the Senate and be signed by the president. And, just like DACA, the Dream and Promise Act imposes arbitrary deadlines and guidelines that unfairly categorize a person’s worth based on their age or history, which inherently leaves some people out.
Our continued fight must call on people to step up how they show up, especially in the jurisdictions where the fight for justice seems the toughest. For far too long, members of our immigrant communities have maintained a lonely struggle in regions like the South, and now is the time for those who claim to support us to truly fight alongside us. It’s no longer enough to identify as an ally, but those with the most privilege must step out of their comfort zones to become coconspirators. If we ever hope to achieve authentic and lasting change, this will necessitate redirecting resources and giving up space so that directly impacted folks can access platforms from which they can speak up for themselves and lead the work.
Whether the Dream and Promise Act can continue down the path toward becoming law depends on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, where I’m currently pursuing my undergraduate degree. We must stop cutting elected officials like McConnell slack by classifying fights in the South as lost causes, because that is the type of thinking and language that allows them to ignore the needs and interests of their constituents. True solidarity means looking to affected communities for leadership on the issues that affect them and using your resources as citizens with voting power, as DACA recipients with access to work authorization and education, and, hopefully, as potential beneficiaries of the Dream and Promise Act to uplift the voices of those who would otherwise be left out.
Berenice Gonzalez is a FirstGEN Fellow at the National Immigration Law Center. FirstGEN Fellows is a 10-week summer program for undergraduate students interested in social justice careers who are the first in their immediate families to attend an institution of higher education.