Years ago, my family had to fight US immigration offices tirelessly for my father’s chance to be a citizen. This was under the Obama administration whom many had championed as progressive for immigrants. My mom became a single mother for nearly a year all while juggling two children, lawyer fees, her undergraduate coursework, and a full-time job. She became a hero to me. As inspiring as that is, it makes me wonder why families even have to be separated in the first place. My father used to tell me the pain and struggle of what being undocumented looks like. He told me stories of fathers who had to watch their children grow up between the thin plastic slides of ICE detention centers. Without a lawyer, which most can’t afford, I likely wouldn’t have seen my father for decades. I like to think that maybe things will change, but change doesn’t come from inaction. To get the widespread change Americans deserve, and by Americans I mean all Americans, we need to hold this administration accountable.
Truth be told, DACA isn’t as controversial as people make it out to be. In fact, it’s sort of the bare minimum of what the American public expects to pass. Nearly 83% of Americans support immigration reform for children who arrived here illegally and want them to have a shot at citizenship. Not just this, but the requirements for DACA recipients are just extraneous and would oftentimes be downright unfeasible for most Duke students. It’s no wonder why opinion has shifted in favor of DACA, the recipients are vetted beyond belief. Valeria Silombria, a senior Political Science major at Duke and DACA recipient, echoes this sentiment. She stated “I am feeling hopeful about the Biden-Harris administration. I am appreciative of their plans for Dreamers’ pathway to citizenship; however, I think that DACA recipients are the most privileged among the undocumented community (because we get a work permit, driver’s license, and protection from deportation). There are a lot of undocumented students who unfortunately don’t qualify for this program because of the date they entered the U.S. or other circumstances. Also, DACA recipients’ parents don’t get any benefit from the DACA program. I would really like to see justice for all these individuals too and not just us Dreamers.”
To clarify, there isn’t anything wrong with ensuring protection from DACA. What is wrong is how delayed the responses have been to it. The expectations for this upcoming administration are milestones that should’ve come a decade ago. Not just this, but these protections likely won’t extend to the families of DACA recipients with a 50-50 split US Senate. Damary Gutierrez Hernandez, a junior at Duke majoring in Statistical Science and also a DACA recipient, stated “At this point, I wonder what my parents are going to do. They have been here a very long time and their situation has stayed the same despite multiple changes in administration. They have sacrificed everything for me and my family to have the American dream. Despite this, their chance will be one of the first things cut by the 'moderate' vote. People don’t think about the individuals going through this experience unless they place these great expectations on them. It almost feels like by elevating DACA students and not their entire families, they are placing a barrier between those who do or don’t deserve it. The public opinion on who can receive DACA is sort of toxic. Who is anyone to say that someone doesn’t or does deserve DACA?”
The Biden Administration has made boldness a focal point of its immigration reform. While I certainly agree these last two senate races and putting DACA on the agenda were wins for progressives, that doesn’t mean the fight is over. Justice is a lot more than equality. Justice looks like long-term organizing in the name of ending separating families. Even if the last Democratic administration didn’t build cages for children, the fact that cages were built at all should sound the alarms for what we may see moving forward. Not just this, but President Biden’s call to end private prisons doesn’t include immigrant detention facilities. I agree that former President Trump’s immigration policies were abhorrent, separating families and forced hysterectomies were simply unprecedented. However, this doesn’t mean a repeal of those policies will insure a better quality of life for DACA, undocumented, and permanent residents. The stress, anxiety and fear will remain for many of these Americans. Just because the bar is below the ground doesn’t mean we should remain minimal in our expectations. Without permanent legal protections, the risk of repeating Trump’s atrocities remains at large.
Lastly, I would like to end with things that can be done to help support those fighting the immigration system. First off, the Informed Immigrant site provides a full guide to legal rights and finds local lawyers willing to work pro-bono to fight off immigration services. If you want to do one better, try to donate money to these programs. Second, hundreds of Duke students have signed this petition demanding Duke University declare itself a sanctuary campus but as of July 31st, 2020 there seems to be no formal announcement declaring it as one. Though Trump is no longer president, a move like this would be a sigh of relief and comfort for many Duke students. Administration changes, no matter how big or small, doesn’t mean we stop fighting. Third, please help organize. Organizing consists of helping community leaders gather resources and people to support the cause. Georgia was a perfect example of what can happen when people get behind grassroots organizations and fight for longterm change. You can make a difference. Even if undocumented and DACA students don’t have a vote themselves, students like Duke Senior and Statistical Science major Salvador Chavero have shown mobilization at Duke is possible. Last but not least, call your congressional representatives and urge them to push resolutions introduced by the Biden administration forward. Change is possible, but only if we support each other to get there.
I thank Salvador Chavero, Damary Gutierrez Hernandez, and Valeria Silombria for their incredible insight and help with this article. Undocumented, DACA, permanent residents, and international students fighting immigration services often go unnoticed at Duke. If there is anything anyone fighting these issues could take away from reading this column, please know you’re not alone in this fight.
Anthony Salgado is a Trinity first-year. His column runs on alternate Fridays.