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Humanizing DACA students

| Thursday, September 6, 2018

She didn’t even know until she was applying to college.

As the midterm elections draw near, these Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students have found their lives are being hyper-politicized once again. DACA recipients, hence the name, came to the United States as children. Many of them don’t know any country other than the U.S.; some of them didn’t know of their immigration status until they were adults. While legislators debate the future of undocumented immigrants, many of these DACA students live in fear for the safety of their family members and themselves.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with some of Notre Dame’s undocumented students and speaking with them regarding their experiences on Notre Dame’s campus. Several of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins came to the United States from Mexico without documentation, so while the issue is not personal to me, it is a topic close to my heart. However, since I am documented, I find as though that privilege necessitates elevating the voices of individuals to whom this issue is deeply rooted in their existence before adding in my own. The names of the participants have been excluded at their behest and to protect their identities.

The first individual I spoke with said she felt it was an almost helpless feeling knowing her mom could be taken away at any second and sent back to a country she didn’t call home. It was difficult for her not to feel any ‘survivor’s guilt’ knowing her family doesn’t get the DACA protections she does.

Immigrants, particularly undocumented ones, have had to bear the scapegoating and fury of much alt-right propaganda. Recent events, such as the death of Mollie Tibbetts, have been blown out of proportion by right-wing media outlets to drive home a dehumanizing rhetoric toward undocumented immigrants.

The second individual told me how he felt the right-wing cherry-picks its statistics and data. He felt that those outlets looked for the ‘worst of the worst’ and made all undocumented immigrants seem as though they were here to ruin this picture-perfect view of America.

It goes without saying that undocumented immigrants create more jobs and commit crimes at much lower rates than native-born Americans, but highlighting only the best of their achievements and ignoring non-DACA undocumented folks is also problematic. Some DACA folks feel as though they are often used as a bargaining chip in the immigration debate.

The third individual told me she felt as though she had a huge pressure to do well; as though if she took one wrong step everyone would decide she needed to go. She expressed how neither she nor her mom should have to be doctors or lawyers or entrepreneurs to be worth fighting for.

For those living at the intersection of undocumented immigration, gender, class, sexual orientation and race, the conversation becomes even more complicated. In a Latinx-centered movement, Asian and Black undocumented folk have expressed a feeling of erasure and exclusion.

The fourth individual told me that being undocumented and queer is like being in two different closets at once; it was like being stuck in two different shadows and worlds. As a queer, undocumented Afro-Latinx individual, they (preferred pronoun) feel as though other queer individuals have the privilege of being ‘just queer’ and get to turn a blind eye to the rest of their (the individual I spoke to) identity. For them, it is really difficult to find safe spaces at Notre Dame when even groups that are all about inclusivity and diversity decide the discussion around immigration gets to be apolitical while at the same time condemning homophobic, sexist, racist, etc., language. They were so frustrated at having so many facets of their identity under attack and not be able to participate in the political process to protect themselves.

A common frustration in the discussion of undocumented immigrants is the lack of human decency offered, even in so-called ‘safe spaces.’ Many undocumented immigrants who are open about their immigration status find themselves fighting for a basic display of humanity.

The four individuals pointed out that someone who isn’t willing to acknowledge you’re human isn’t worth arguing with. Calling someone ‘illegal’ denies someone that dignity.

One of the most important messages some of Notre Dame’s DACA students want to convey is to acknowledge their humanity. It isn’t some radical, politically correct idea to use ‘undocumented’ instead of ‘illegal’ when referring to undocumented immigrants in your discourse. The idea was put forth by Elie Wiesel, who witnessed the labelling of Jewish people as an ‘illegal people’ in Nazi Germany. It is only when acknowledging someone’s humanity that a real, honest discussion can be had.

How can you get involved in the discussion? Notre Dame’s Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy has outlined several steps to become involved in the discussion. Whether it be calls to your representatives, senators and local officials, resources and action-plans for allies and advocates are provided in the form of phone-call manuscripts and news updates, among many others. In fact, this Thursday they will host a discussion called “Ethical Arguments: How to Disagree as Decent People” at the Geddes Coffee House from 5:30 – 7 p.m.

Get educated, get serious and get involved. Innocent lives are at stake.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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