Truth-Telling in Immigration

Photo by Molly Adams | CC BY 2.0

As we enter a new year, 800,000 Dreamers await news of their fate in this country.  Thwarted by a president who will soon terminate the only program giving them temporary reprieve from harassment or deportation, stood up by a Congress that couldn’t muster the will last year to grant them a pathway to permanent residency, they wait.

But not all are simply standing by.  On New Year’s Day I scan the internet, seeking photos and stories of Dreamers willing to share something of their lives and their contributions to America.  On a USA Today site, I read about Ellie, whose DACA status enabled her to attend community college fulltime, earn an associate’s degree, and eventually become the first person in her family to attend a four-year university.  I learn about Julio, for whom DACA meant the opportunity to become a mortgage loan officer and a tax-paying, contributing member of his community.  There is Carla, who started a digital marketing business, and there, too, is Reyna, who founded an organization that advocates for migrant youth.

These are only a few of the many Dreamers who have not been deterred from speaking out and sharing their stories.  When Donald Trump announced last September that he would terminate the Obama-era DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program by March, 2018, many Dreamers began protesting in Washington and other cities for a just resolution of the crisis, seeking to galvanize public support.  They have persisted in telling their truths in an era of official distortions and betrayals.

In her 2008 study of immigration policy, Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant:  The Politics of Immigration Reformpolitical scientist Lina Newton showed how changing images of immigrants colored debates and influenced legislation in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Though many Americans expressed concerns in the 1980’s about job security when they discussed immigration, they nevertheless acknowledged the contributions that immigrants were making to American society; 61 percent of Americans surveyed in a 1984 Newsweek/Gallup poll agreed with the assertion that “immigrants help improve our culture with their different cultures and talents.”  In the political climate of the time, Congress passed, and President Ronald Reagan signed, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, opening a pathway on which 2.7 million undocumented immigrants would eventually advance to permanent residency.

By contrast, the 1990s, the era of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” saw a shift in congressional debates about both government and immigration.  Playing on Americans’ growing economic insecurities, lawmakers, particularly Republicans, increasingly characterized government as an engine of redistribution that shifted citizens’ tax dollars to the undeserving, and they lumped into that “undeserving” category both welfare recipients and immigrants.   They not only characterized legal and undocumented immigrants as freeloaders; they also played up a more ominous image of the “criminal alien” who constituted a threat to law and order.  In that era, the most significant piece of immigration-related legislation, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, unsurprisingly introduced stiffer new enforcement measures while offering no new avenues to permanent residency or citizenship.

In the ensuing decades, negative images of immigrants as freeloaders and as threats, played up by politicians and nativist think tanks, have continued to predominate in public debates about immigration, whether those debates have concerned policies dealing with legal immigration or with the presence of undocumented individuals in the country.  This situation has persisted despite countervailing developments, such as President Obama’s executive order creating DACA in 2012 or the publication in 2016 of a National Academy of Sciences report affirming immigration’s “overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.”

With the candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump, the negative and threatening discourse about immigrants has been taken to unprecedented levels, spurring an uptick in hate crimes and bias incidents and creating an atmosphere of fear that many public officials have described as corrosive to public trust in local law enforcement.  It has been in this fearful atmosphere that many Dreamers have been speaking out and even engaging in civil disobedience, often at great risk to themselves.  They know that it is possible for a Dream Act still to be passed in this Congress, and the coming weeks will be revelatory about the nation’s capacity to resist falsehood.  In the meantime, the Dreamers continue to remind us of the talents and the promise they offer to this nation.  They bear witness to Americans’ potential for recognizing a shared humanity and for acknowledging an inclusive America that is home to us all.


More articles by:

Andrew Moss is an emeritus professor from the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he taught a course, “War and Peace in Literature,” for 10 years.

March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Sam Husseini
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us