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The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer

Photograph Source: Dave Hosford – CC BY 2.0

Dear Dreamer,

You may not even remember the journey across the border. Maybe you tracked through a desert.  Maybe you hid in a trunk. Maybe you arrived in an airport, your passport stamped with a visa. Maybe you came here all by yourself to reunite with your mom or dad. Maybe you were excited, maybe scared. And, in the end, you stayed.

You enrolled in an American school. You grew up eating Cheerios and grilled cheese, playing softball, listening to hip hop. Then one day you were told that you don’t belong. That you are illegal. You need to go.

But go where? This is the country you know. This is your home.

Culturally integrated but legally excluded, you are assimilated and alienated at once.

How daunting it must be to realize that once you graduate from high school, you will find yourself barred from government financial aid, student loans, and legal employment. How frightening, to contemplate the possibility of being forced into an underground economy of temporary jobs, unfair wages, unsafe working conditions. How hard, to watch your American-born classmates move on with their lives, while you watch over your shoulder for cop cars driving by. How exhausting to live in fear. Fear of arbitrary detention, deportation. Fear of being separated from your family. Fear of what the future may or may not hold.

How hurtful it must be to be taught the American Dream, yet told you are not to dream it. To be told that you are overcrowding the schools. That you are stealing jobs. That you are unwanted. That by the virtue of your existence here in this country, you are a criminal.

How infuriating it must be to see the politicians fuel the anti-immigrant rhetoric which denies your humanity and puts you at risk of hate crimes.

It’s difficult enough being a teenager, searching for yourself, coming to terms with your identity, clashing with the world around you. And you come of age to find your rite of passage interrupted, rights denied, life turned upside down.

You might see some of the young immigrants drop out of school, join gangs, abuse drugs. In their faces, you might recognize the feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, hopelessness. You may even resonate with their depression, anxiety, and anger. Yet you also know that these are not personal mental and behavioral health challenges alone. They are symptoms of systematic oppression and humiliation.

To protect yourself and your family you have been advised to remain small, submissive, resigned. To become invisible. When the system requires your self-negation in this manner, fatalism is only appropriate.

But no. You, dear Dreamer, have proved something else. Together with your fellow Dreamers—who are from all different regions of the world, all religions and races—you have risen to announce that you are “undocumented and unafraid.” Evoking the best of the Civil Rights Movement, you have boarded buses, gathered at sit-ins, marched to Washington, DC to speak to legislators. You have protested. You have resisted. You made it clear that you will not be shoved into the shadows, you will not be silenced.

You have risked deportation, you have risked everything, so that your presence could expose the invisible violence of intolerance, discrimination, oppression, exploitation—the deeply embedded systems and structures of xenophobia—in America.

And since you were told that the American Dream does not apply to you, you spelled out your own DREAM: Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. Introducing the DREAM Act to the Congress you asked for a chance to earn legal status by pursuing a college education or serving in the US military. You celebrated the progress the legislation made and grieved its setbacks. You must have been weary after all the appeals and denials over the years, but you carried on.

Though you knew that it was not a long-term solution with a path to citizenship, in 2012 you welcomed increased opportunities for social and economic incorporation with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). You trusted the government with your personal information and applied to be one of the 800,000 Dreamers to benefit from the program’s protection. Then you spent the past two years with the threat of its termination. And now you await its fate at the Supreme Court.

In the face of these challenges, you have proved to be a role model for all Americans with your demands for social justice and dignity.

The United States of America needs citizens like you, Dreamer. Citizens who are conscious of this country’s history of racial, ethnic, and economic struggles. Citizens who are committed to the democratic principles of freedom and equality. Citizens who are socially and politically responsible. Who are revolutionary. Resilient. Who believe in the power of community. Who invest in civic imagination. Citizens who stand in their power to keep this nation of immigrants honest and accountable.

Ipek S. Burnett is a depth psychologist and Turkish novelist living in San Francisco. She’s the author of A Jungian Inquiry into the American Psyche: The Violence of Innocence (Routledge, 2019).  

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