I'm a DACA success story. Here's why I want people to stop focusing on narratives like mine.
- Jean Pierre Barriga, 27, is a DACAmented DE&I professional based in New York City.
- While sharing the stories of Dreamers is important, Barriga says more attention should be paid to the lesser known DAPA immigration policy, aka the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.
- Years of lawsuits and injunctions against DAPA have led to countless parents of Dreamers, like Barriga's mom, to live undocumented in the US with no end in sight.
- Even if the DREAM Act passes, Barriga urges Americans to keep advocating for wider immigration reform that is inclusive of all people and family members who immigrated in the US.
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Six years ago I was having a conversation with my mother in our living room when CNN announced President Obama's executive order on DAPA — the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.
At this point, I was two years into my DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, status. DACA changed my life by granting me access to life beyond the shadows; I was able to get a license, access better paying employment opportunities, and live without the fear of deportation.
The DAPA announcement shocked me as I realized it would better the lives of the people I love the most: my parents.
My mother's eyes watered as she finally felt welcomed by a country she had been living in since 1995. Her excitement was contagious, we started daydreaming about what it would be like to visit Ecuador; the country I was born in but haven't been able to travel to since I was 2 years old.
My excitement turned to anxiety and disappointment in the months that followed the announcement.
A Texas-led lawsuit made its way through our legal system; a federal injunction blocked DAPA from taking effect in February 2015, a mere four months after the initial announcement of the program. Eventually, the Supreme Court accepted to review the case, but Republicans' refusal to appoint a replacement for Justice Scalia resulted in a split decision on DAPA — effectively killing DAPA.
During the weeks following the Supreme Court decision on DAPA, I noticed the lack of media coverage and its failure to portray how cruel this was to undocumented immigrants. How could the media not cover the emotional and psychological toll this had on our communities? Safety and equity for thousands of people were revoked because a branch of our government refused to do the job they were elected to do.
Fast forward four traumatic years later, undocumented immigrants — some of whom may have been protected by DAPA — have been forcibly sterilized, separated from their children, and gassed in ICE detention centers.
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My mother remains undocumented partly because of Senate Republican's refusal to respect the constitution for the sake of political gain.
I believe humans cannot be illegal. But even without "lawful" status, my mother and father managed to survive in the United States with three children. My family got through the 2008 economic crisis, put two kids through college (the third is on his way), and endured the relentless xenophobia and racism encouraged by the Trump administration.
As an undocumented immigrant, you're stuck in survival mode. Absolutely nothing is given to you: not even a stimulus check during a global pandemic, regardless if you have lived in the United States for over 25 years; not even in-state tuition, regardless if you have lived in North Carolina since the second grade; not even having you or your family spoken about with respect instead of "illegal," regardless if it's dehumanizing and syntactically-incorrect.
DAPA was expected to provide beneficiaries with a program similar to the Advanced Parole program for DACA-recipients; DAPA would have allowed my mother and father to visit our family in Ecuador who they haven't seen since they were 23 and 28 respectively.
Politics affects individuals differently based on their structural power within a society. For most, DAPA was a typo for people meaning to refer to the DACA program. For my mother, DAPA will always be the last chance she had to see my abuelito, abuelita, and tía before their unexpected passing. My mother has still not been able to visit their graves more than two years after their passing.
The national conversation around immigration reform has ignored the struggles and stories of undocumented immigrants that don't fall into the 'Dreamer' category.
The media's obsession with the feel-good immigrant stories that DACA-recipients embody hurts the people who brought Dreamers here and gave us the courage to continue fighting. Stop cherry-picking cliché narratives and start making your coverage more inclusive.
I want to make it clear that as a DACA-recipient myself, I do not intend to diminish the accomplishments of Dreamers. Regardless of the xenophobia and other forms of discrimination we face, we manage to get ahead. I have a deep sense of pride and respect for the DACA-recipients, undocumented immigrants, and organizers that hustle everyday to make the American Dream accessible.
That's why it's important to note that failure to authentically represent the stories of the broader undocumented immigrant community will result in the passing of a partial-solution.
Read more: This Brazilian immigrant CEO thinks that Silicon Valley investors need to do more to help customers outside America, even if their income is lower
How many Americans will stop advocating for immigration reform if, and only if, the DREAM act passes?
The DREAM act would grant me, along with other Dreamers, a pathway to citizenship, but how is that just if it ignores my parents and fails to address the systemic inequities inherent to our immigration laws?
Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the full reinstatement of the DACA program. In true immigrant fashion, this win was short lived since Federal Judge Hanen will review the legality of the program and is expected to issue an unfavorable decision towards DACA.
There is no honeymoon period for the Biden administration. We deserve immigration reform that fixes the structural problems of our immigration system while remaining inclusive to those that fall out of the "Dreamer" category. Both Dreamers, and our parents, deserve to live without the constant fear of deportation, the ability to travel to see our family members overseas, have access to better-paying employment opportunities, access services for which we pay taxes for, and be given a fair chance at obtaining US citizenship.
Jean Pierre Barriga is a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional based in New York City. He writes about immigration, race and ethnicity, as well as issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. You can find more information about him on his Linkedin or follow him on Twitter @jeanpbarriga.
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