On Thursday, June 14th, I tried going to bed at a reasonable time but I was too energized – and filled with renewed hope – to sleep. Earlier in the evening, I attended a preview screening of 14: From Dred Scott to Vanessa Lopez, a documentary to be released by Graham Street Productions, producers of the movie "Papers."
What stood out for me on that lovely Thursday evening were the poignant and compelling personal stories told by two young women, Vanessa and Annicia, who stood before a group mostly comprised of strangers and talked about their immigrant lives. These young women are leaders with the Student Alliance Project. Their powerful, intimate stories were not being shared that evening with their peers but with an audience primarily composed of funders of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants & Refugees, attending a national conference in Portland that MRG co-hosted.
14: From Dred Scott to Vanessa Lopez traces the reality of the fight to tear down the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by those who want to deny the fundamental right to birthright citizenship to those they deem ‘the other.’ The 14th amendment guarantees that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.” Essentially, this is a battle about who has "the right" to be an American. It comes into focus as political ground shifted away from passing the DREAM Act, even when it had support across the political spectrum in 2009-2010. The DREAM Act is legislation that creates a path to legal residency (not citizenship) for young people whose parents are undocumented.
That night, I tried to go to sleep but I kept thinking about these two young women and the nightmare worlds of secrecy and fear they’ve had to live with because they are children of undocumented parents. My heart was full for all of those who are marginalized because of their ethnicity, their country of origin, or their race. I did eventually fall asleep, looking forward to my daughter's birthday the next day.
On Friday when I awoke, I expected a good sunshine-filled day, one of great possibilities. In one deliberate, thoughtfully informed move, our President had indeed created a new day – one full of expectation and possibilities for many more of us. He directed the Department of Homeland Security to stop the deportation of youth who arrived in this county as children without documentation and are engaged in their community and otherwise doing well. I had no idea when I awoke on June 15th that anything as wonderful as my daughter’s birthday would be on the horizon!
My daughter’s a young woman who was a wonderfully energetic girl, always dreaming big, who believed that if she studied hard, did her work, and was respectful of others, she’d reach her goals. That’s also been my dream for her, and it's currently being fulfilled. I know that Vanessa and Annicia and all little girls and boys that were brought to America have similar dreams, as do their moms and dads. This move by our President makes all our dreams closer to reality.
Is it a political move by a sitting president who wants to govern four more years? I’m guessing yes and no; and that doesn’t change the importance of this single act for millions of workers, families and young people contributing to our country. In response to people who claim it is election-minded, I will point out that his decision to place himself on the correct side of history may cost him in the present.
Is President Obama's move, to allow a path to legal status for these young people, perfect? By no means, and many of us know and acknowledge that. This is a move in the right direction, it is not crossing the finish line. And yes, I'm excited about it.
We can all join with the hundreds of thousands of social justice seekers who are raising their hands high, thanking the President for doing the right thing, whatever the reason. Let's also thank him for making Friday, June 15th an extraordinary day for all of us who support the DREAMers among us.
Photo by Student Alliance Project of youth leaders Oscar, Annicia, and Vanessa, and supporters Meredith, Nadia, and Anne