No Matter What Happens to DACA, Defend Immigrant Youth Without Demonizing Parents

Late Sunday, White House aides leaked to Politico what we’ve all feared for months: Trump is ending DACA, the Obama-era program that has protected 800,000 immigrant youth from deportation and afforded them the opportunity to live and work in the U.S. without fear. Though the official announcement isn’t expected until Tuesday, it’s likely that Trump will delay the end of DACA for six months to give Congress a window to act. As the fight to protect immigrant youth shifts from the executive to the legislative branch (which, as those of us who watched the DREAM act die in 2010 know, is an uphill battle), it’s more important than ever to do so without throwing immigrant parents under the bus.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard one too many defenses of DACA that cite young people’s innocence and blamelessness, implicitly conjuring up the idea that the people who brought them here are at fault. Defending DACA by saying its beneficiaries “did not choose to come here” or “broke the law through no fault of their own” can demonize their parents by implication. (If it’s not young people’s fault, whose is it?)

Rather than pointing the blame at immigrant parents for “breaking the law,” let’s question and critique the root causes of displacement, poverty, and migration. Let’s probe laws and regulations that keep people in the shadows and mark them as undocumented, unauthorized, and “illegal.” This is not about our parents’ “poor choices.” It’s about a government that builds walls to keep people out, exploits the Global South to the point where people have no choice but to leave home, and creates immigration policies that make it impossible to adjust our legal status. Defending DACA requires a complete reimagining and reordering of the entire U.S. immigration system. And it requires that we defend — not demonize — our parents.

Pro-youth, anti-family narratives are so ingrained in our culture that even immigrant children often buy into them. Convinced that we are trapped in this impossible situation because mami y papi brought us here, we internalize these discourses and start to believe them. I remember being sixteen and undocumented, channeling all my rage toward my parents. I recall the times I made my mother cry, blaming her for bringing me to a country that didn’t want me and refused to make room for my dreams. Instead of being angry with a government determined to keep me from thriving, I condemned her for bringing me here in the first place. Rather than pointing my finger at the systems and structures that are designed to make life miserable for immigrants, I took it out on her and my dad. I regret those moments wholeheartedly.

Tomorrow, Trump will likely announce the end of a program that has drastically improved the lives of 800,000 talented, intelligent, and deserving young people. Saying they came here “by no fault of their own” or that they “committed no crime” criminalizes and demonizes immigrant parents by default. Rather than falling back on these narratives that place the blame on our parents, let’s defend and protect them, too.

Header image via NBC.

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

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