TEMPE, Ariz. — In the months leading up to the congressional vote on the Dream Act in 2010, young people across the state organized protests to urge our elected officials to vote in favor. I was a 21-year-old communications student at Estrella Mountain Community College, in Avondale, Ariz., at the time.
I remember how hopeful I felt the day I joined others in Senator John McCain’s office in Phoenix that December; after all, he had co-sponsored the 2003 and 2005 versions of the Dream Act. But the bill died on the Senate floor the next day. Mr. McCain was among the lawmakers who voted against the legislation, including five Democrats.
It wouldn’t be the last time I felt betrayed by a politician.
The first version of the Dream Act, which would have given young people like me a path to citizenship, was introduced in 2001. But nearly 20 years on, our futures still hang in the balance. Comprehensive immigration reform that could provide permanent immigration relief for the approximately 11 million undocumented people in the country has failed to pass under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
I’m 31 years old now. I am also a mother to a beautiful 5-year-old boy. Two years ago he was diagnosed with autism. His father and I were granted deferred action under DACA shortly after it was established in 2012, which made us eligible for work permits. This in turn allows us to receive private health insurance through our employers, which means that our son is able to get the therapy he needs.
The last four years have been a roller coaster of emotions. The stress that has always accompanied my undocumented status has been amplified since his diagnosis, given the Trump administration’s attempts to end DACA. What would happen if we lost our status and health insurance? What would become of my son if he lost access to the care that is so vital to his development? My stomach turned each time I heard a court handed down a decision on one of Donald Trump’s many challenges to the program.
President Biden has already taken various actions on immigration, including fortifying DACA. He also sent Congress The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would offer a pathway to citizenship to the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The plan has been hailed as bold, but undocumented people have been here before. Barack Obama also made big promises he couldn’t keep. We can’t go on like this.
Mr. Trump dehumanized and terrorized the immigrant community. But the truth is that racist laws and politicians targeted undocumented people long before he arrived on the scene. In 2008, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio gloated about having his very own concentration camp, where he jailed undocumented people. An Arizona statute, Senate Bill 1070, in 2010 gave officers the power to arrest anyone without a warrant that they believed to have committed a crime that could make that person subject to deportation, among other things. In 2012, Gov. Jan Brewer sought to ban drivers licenses for DACA recipients in the state.
Through my work in the immigrant rights movement, I have witnessed so many examples of how lack of status, combined with criminalizing immigration policies, cast dark shadows over the lives of our community not only in Arizona but across the country. From allegations of forced sterilization of women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody to children left orphaned by deportation.
It sometimes feels as if undocumented people are persecuted for simply existing in a country they have given so much to. Our contributions are not limited to playing a key role in the nation’s economy and paying billions in taxes each year. Many have also worked to keep Americans fed during the pandemic, losing their lives in the process, all the while with no permanent legislative solution in sight. Thinking about all this fills me with rage. Then I look at my son, and think that I have no other option but to continue to fight, even though I am tired. I am so tired.
Actions must speak louder than words this time around. The Biden administration should begin by launching an investigation of the Department of Homeland Security, which houses ICE as well as Customs and Border Protection, two institutions that have become symbols of abuse and terror in our community.
ICE and C.B.P. have separated families at the border, put kids in cages and, by some accounts, have sexually assaulted immigrants. Mr. Biden should abolish both agencies and hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable for the violations they committed. The administration should also take a stance against state policies and politicians that seek to enforce laws designed to further criminalize our community.
And, of course, there’s the immigration bill.
Democrats currently carry a thin majority in the House and Senate, but passing the president’s bill is likely to be contingent upon Republican support. This will require Mr. Biden to remain strong and not allow for amendments or concessions that would criminalize, hurt or alienate any part of our community. It also means not jeopardizing the promise of protection for the entire 11 million. While it is important, we cannot let protection for Dreamers be the ceiling of permanent legislation achieved during the Biden administration. Protecting Dreamers means also protecting our families and communities.
The new president has the opportunity to take decisive action. He should work to shift the narrative; denounce and dismantle ideas, policies and institutions rooted in white supremacy; and deliver on the overdue promise of legislation that would grant a pathway to citizenship. The time is now; it has always been now.