Speech for Dreamers/DACA

Close to where we are today, my family and ancestors lived and died hundreds of years before the idea of “America” or a “United States” was even dreamed up. All across these lands Natives lived, worked, played, grew societies, raised families, faced hardships, and experienced joy for tens of thousands of years before the first European set foot on this land. We’re tied to this land, and our fate rests with it. So it is with strong conviction that I say that no, we’re not all immigrants.

But I do see that as a strong rhetorical tool to appeal to some sense of shared history. That at one point, the people in power had family and ancestors who were colonists or settlers. They immigrated to the Americas for a multitude of different reasons, many for the chance at a better life. Not all of them were the best and brightest. There were the poor and sick, the oppressed, the persecuted. Over time, they, and their posterity, became enveloped in the history of the United States.

So it is with a great deal of irony, that many people in power today treat with such disdain immigrants and even refugees. You’d think that they would have taken a moment of self-reflection as how they came to exist in this place. However, the trend we are seeing of exclusionary social policies based on national origin is nothing new.

Throughout the history of the United States, there have been policies put into place which have systematically advantaged the racial group in power and oppressed or limited the opportunities and lives of the “others.” For many years, it was just straight up racism. There was no need to hide it. But as time went along, public opinion began to shi and it became more di cult to hold the contradictory positions of democracy and equality with racial superiority.

The interesting shift that we see is that it moves from discussing racial superiority to economic issues, to states’ rights, and to individual freedoms. For example, during the New Deal and post-WWII era, government welfare was afforded to the vast majority of whites, and limited to blacks by excluding the kinds of jobs that blacks worked in in the highest numbers: agricultural work and domestic work. So when a black man needed help from the unemployment agency to find a job or to try to collect unemployment benefits, he was o en met with a door to the face.

The reason I mention this, is that there is some danger in using the rhetorical device of the economic benefits that Dreamers and immigrants generally contribute to the overall economy of the United States.

We have been trained from an early age to think in economic terms and that it is the most important thing we must worry about as individuals and as a society. We’re preoccupied with economic growth and economic development, and we measure the success and worth of a person based on the value of economic productivity that person can produce.

It has escaped from us that the economy has become disembedded from the rest of society. That now all of our interactions have to be justified through economic means, and in the last 25-30 years, especially in how much a person contributes to consumption.

As one who studies labor markets and social policy as a profession, I have to give a clear warning that the kind of society that we are running, the kind that puts the economy above all else, is destroying the environment, committing more and more people around the world to work in perilous conditions in precarious jobs, forcing migrations, undermining national sovereignty, and reducing the human character. It is, in essence, undermining our very ability to survive and killing the human experience.

So it is with firmness that I speak to the use of economic arguments. Those have been used to defend systems of racism for hundreds of years now. Instead, I would argue that for us to recapture our humanity
and expand the power of the Dreamers is to amplify the fact that we need to start viewing everyone first as human beings and eschew the danger that is viewing people simply as economic inputs to the economic machine.
I’m not advocating that economic arguments be dismissed completely, but that the first focus should be on the humanity we all share.

For example, the New York Times recently commissioned a fantastic interactive site with the personal stories of Dreamers, and anyone with any decency and common sense will view it and align themselves with the plight of Dreamers. The stories contained within these essays convey the most basic of human fears, needs, and desires.

“Knowing that I could lose all the freedom I’ve gained is a paralyzing fear.” - Julia Verzbickis from San Antonio, Texas.

“My mom always showed me anything is possible by working hard for it. I never really noticed or felt like I wasn’t American.” - Zuleyma Garcia from Apple Valley, California.

“We ask only to let us contribute freely. Let us walk along you, shoulder to shoulder, on that same road our hands help to pave.” - Denis Montero Diaz from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“My dream is to create a more compassionate society that restores human dignity to those who are pushed further into the margins.” - Brisa E. Ramirez from Fresno, California.

“If DACA were removed, we would have to return to the shadows and live life in constant fear.” - Deyanira from Austin, Texas.

Dreamers are from New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. From Salt Lake City and Milwaukee. And also places like Apple Valley, CA; Creston, IA; Hartford, MI; Woodside, NY; and Lancaster, PA.

Dreamers are Americans. They identify as such, they live as such, they think as such. Dreamers are Americans!

As I mentioned, ‘We’re not all immigrants,’...but we’re all human beings. And as such we have basic rights that we’re all afforded, the freedom of life and to have healthy pursuits, to live free from fear and free from want. To live in a society free from persecution. To live with our families intact. 

Everyone should be afforded the chance to make their lives better, whether that’s getting a job or starting a business or nonprofit, going to college or university, to travel and learn new things, to live a life of dignity.

Unfortunately, you don’t have the luxury or privilege of leading ordinary lives. You’re constantly vigilant that what you do affects the perception of your entire group. It is a burden, but also a blessing. It sharpens your resilience. You learn that patience isn’t a virtue, but a necessity. You’re strengthened as you face and overcome hardship. It is not an enviable position, and it’s not necessarily even fair, but you’re the tip of the sword that will make the lives of those who come after better.

Though I am a person of humble means, I may not have all the power in the world to change stupid and discriminatory laws, or raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the cause, but what I can do, and what all of us can do, is work to change the attitudes, the hearts and minds of everyday people and of leaders, to begin to see that the cause of the Dreamers is the cause of the human experience and the fulfillment of the American Dream. 

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