COMMENTARY: Immigrants are like all Americans: hard to categorize

Tragically, Donald Trump has managed to do that which eluded Barack Obama: Fulfill his promises on immigration.

Last week, Trump announced that he would end the always-explicitly-temporary Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He also suggested that Congress act within the next six months to enact permanent legislation.

While it may be satisfying to proclaim, as many immigrant-rights leaders and their allies have, that Trump’s move was “evil,” “cruel” and “the worst decision Trump has made,” doing so ignores the fact that the groundwork was laid by someone else.

In 2010, President Obama failed to gather the five Democratic holdout votes that would have passed the full DREAM Act, which included a path to citizenship. Then, in late May 2012, Obama issued his DACA decree, overruling long-standing objections (on the grounds of constitutionality) by his Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. When DACA was announced in the middle of Obama’s re-election campaign, it was seen as a patronizing half-measure since the president had spent all of his limited political capital on passing the Affordable Care Act.

There was also widespread misunderstanding and misinformation within the Latino community. Many believed that the actual DREAM Act, or another type of amnesty, had become law with the stroke of Obama’s pen. By late October, news agencies were reporting that some Hispanics who might have considered voting for Mitt Romney were turning toward Obama because of his support of the DREAM Act and immigrant rights in general.

Sure enough, Obama coasted into his second term with the help of Hispanic voters.

The truth is that although DACA’s revocation is terribly upsetting for the hundreds of thousands of unlawfully present immigrants and their families, we all knew this day would come.

This doesn’t necessarily make the situation any easier, but it does no one any good to push the myth that young people are suffering solely at the hands of Republicans.

If we’ve learned anything in the past five years, it is that making angels or demons of political opponents isn’t productive.

Interestingly, this idea of not vilifying or beatifying is being exemplified by the very people who have most benefited from being portrayed as saintly. DACA beneficiaries and other unlawfully present young immigrants are increasingly speaking out against their model minority status within the larger universe of the illegal immigrant population.

In a column for The Washington Post, Ph.D. student and undocumented immigrant Joel Sati wrote, “Though well intentioned, lauding the Dreamers has the unintended effect of juxtaposing these ‘good,’ ‘deserving’ immigrants with the ‘bad’ ones — those with, say, a drug charge from years back — who deserve nothing but deportation and marginalization. Narratives of childhood innocence and economic contribution constrict the movement at a time when it needs to include all 12 million [undocumented immigrants]. And supporting DACA has allowed the liberal elite to feel good about ostensibly doing something pro-immigration when, in fact, it hurts our struggle.”

We truly have lost our humanity when we give in to hyperbole and refer to an opposing party as “evil” and “monstrous” — even when leaders like Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, declare (falsely) that DACA recipients are by and large gang members and drug smugglers. But how different are those who idealize only certain members of a population of unauthorized immigrants?

This country will never reconcile its immigration issues, much less decide who gets to stay and who must go, if it can’t acknowledge that immigrants are like all other Americans: varied, different and not easily lumped into categories that accurately quantify their worth to our community.

Contact Esther Cepeda at

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