Editorial: Crushing immigrant’s dreams is wrong direction for this country

  • About two hundred people took refuge from the rain under an alcove on Hampton Avenue in Northampton on Sept. 5 to hear the stories of those affected by the termination of DACA announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier in the day. Gazette Staff/KEVIN GUTTING

Thursday, September 07, 2017

What is the price of a dream denied? Some 800,000 of our neighbors — children, high school and college students, young men and women contributing to our communities with hard work and law-abiding lives — may find out.

Unless, that is, Congress summons the courage to stand up for immigrants young and, we hope, old.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday ordered an end to the Obama-era executive order that has barred the deportation of youths brought to these shores by their undocumented immigrant parents.

While Trump himself has recently expressed mixed feelings about ejecting the youths known as “dreamers,” he canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to make good on his anti-immigrant campaign promises and warm the hearts of his hard-line followers.

Trump said he wants to help “the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system” by removing immigrants competing for jobs and other benefits of legal residency. While Trump was referring to Obama’s system of allowing young immigrants to stay in the United States as long as they were productive residents, the president’s words could just as easily apply to his latest effort to marginalize foreign-born children, women and men.

Hundreds of Pioneer Valley residents turned out at a vigil in Northampton on Tuesday evening to protest Trump’s decision, carrying candles and signs with messages such as, “We are here to stay.”

Eduardo Samaniego, a Hampshire College student who came from Mexico as a child, said of fellow immigrant youths, “They’ve been working so hard over and over again. They could lose all that in one day, all because of a white supremacist agenda.”

If Trump’s decision stands, some of the roughly 800,000 young adults brought to the United States illegally as children — about 8,000 of them currently living in Massachusetts — could face deportation as early as March 6. But Trump left an opening for Congress, inviting elected representatives to consider a reform package that could address the issue of not only younger immigrants but also other vexing questions surrounding the nation’s welcome — or lack thereof — of other New Americans.

Natalia Berthet Garcia is one of the people who has benefited from the DACA program. She arrived here from Uruguay at age 5, grew up in Leominster and — like so many others “dreamers” — hasn’t known any other country. Now 28, Berthet Garcia said she is grateful for protections that allowed her to get a driver’s license and “a job that treats me like a human being,” she said.

At the same time, she yearns for a broader reform that makes no distinctions between “deserving children” and “undeserving parents” in granting legal status to people from other lands. Rather than labeling such people as “illegal aliens,” Congress should take Trump’s invitation as an opportunity to allow otherwise law-abiding immigrants to continue their contributions to American life.

The odds of meaningful reform are long. Despite broad and bipartisan support for protecting people brought here as children, Congress has repeatedly failed to pass legislation to keep the “dreamers” secure. Instead, in 2012, Obama signed an executive order allowing them to apply for permission to stay in two-year, renewable increments.

While he has remained largely silent on his successor’s actions, Obama took to Facebook to urge compassion and reason. He wrote, “Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away from the rest of us.”

As Congress takes up the immigration issue, conservatives will likely try to barter protections for young immigrants for tougher border controls and measures to crack down on older immigrants. Liberals will counter with efforts to end the crackdown on adults who are causing no problems but continue to draw the ire of people who claim — against all evidence — that they are stealing jobs and populating criminal gangs.

What’s criminal is the assertion that a nation built by immigrants has anything to fear from a thoughtful, well-managed system of allowing foreign-born people to pursue their American dream. That dream begins with the young people who can imagine no other nation as their home.