The trail of DREAMers

Fawaz Turki

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“Dreamers dream because they know that if they throw their dreams into space like a kite,” wrote Anais Nin, the well-known essayist and poet, who was born in France to Cuban parents, but lived most of her life in the United States, where she died in 1977, “it may bring back a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

Nin may not have had DREAMers in mind when she wrote that, but she may as well have. The term, an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM), refers to congressional legislation, proposed during President Obama’s tenure in office, that would have allowed undocumented immigrants, who came to the US as children, to pursue legal status, and even citizenship, provided they entered the country before age 16 and never been convicted of a felony.

The act was not passed but the President offered them temporary legal presence through an executive order in 2012 known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which offered a two-year, renewable reprieve from deportation.

After all, it was argued, these children were brought to the country through no fault of their own and, moreover, having grown up and gone to school in the US, socialized as they were by its cultural norms, they surely must be as American as apple pie.

New man in charge

True, but that was the understanding when President Obama was in the White House. Obama is no longer there, and the man who occupies it today is on record – a record he verbalized vociferously on the campaign trail – as wishing to adopt a harsh, unyielding immigration policy, even against DREAMers. And it is beginning to show.

Ask Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old DREAMer, brought to the US by her parents from Argentina at the age of seven, who last Thursday was snatched off the street by Immigration and Customs (ICE) agents in Jackson, Mississippi, after she had spoken about her plight at a press conference, where she called for a “path to citizenship” for DREAMers like herself.

DREAMers have always lived in the shadows, but after President Obama’s 2-year conditional resident status granted them in 2012, they came out in the open, and actively publicized their cause, feeling bold enough to stage protests

Fawaz Turki

As she was about to enter a friend’s car, following the conference, she was pulled over by ICE officials and taken into custody. Her lawyer fears that she could be deported without a court hearing because, it would appear, her DACA two-year program had expired in November 2016, but she applied to renew it in mid-February this year, presumably after she was able to save $495 for the application fee.

Ask 23-year-old DREAMer Daniel Ramirez Medina, detained last month in Seattle and today remains in custody. Ask 19-year-old Josue Romero from San Antonio, also retained last month but released on bond. Ask countless others.

According to the American Immigration Council, a non-profit group, there are 1.8 million DREAMers in the US, with nearly half of them living in California and Texas, and the rest spread in other states across the country. Seven tenths are Mexican and the rest are from all corners of the globe.

Living in the shadows

DREAMers have always lived in the shadows, but after President Obama’s 2-year conditional resident status granted them in 2012, they came out in the open, and actively publicized their cause, feeling bold enough to stage protests, even outside ICE headquarters.

To be sure, DREAMers never failed to project a sympathetic narrative to a great many Americans, who see them, despite their quirky status, as fellow Americans – so much so, in fact, that in 2010, while the Dream Act was being debated in Congress, four students staged the now famous Trail of Dreams, a 1,500-mile walk from Miami, Florida, to Washington, DC. to support the passing of the Act.

The inspiration for the name came from the Trail of Tears, the forced removal in the 1830s of Native American tribes from their ancestral lands in the Southeastern United States to an area west of the Mississippi where, while on route, they suffered from exposure, disease and starvation that resulted in 4,000 deaths before they reached their destination.

Needless to say, President Trump’s win in November, coupled with his threats to deport all undocumented immigrants, ignited fears throughout the immigrant community, not least of all among DREAMers, who now feel under siege, as if they are now living not just in the shadows but in the cross-hairs – American kids who, were they to be deported, would be sent to countries whose languages they do not speak, whose culture they do not understand and whose norms they do not embrace.

I say the hunt for DREAMers is, at its core, a heartless enterprise.
Fawaz Turki is a Palestinian-American journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington, DC.

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