Recent news that “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) will end in six months, unless Congress enacts legislation, is a mean-spirited action that will affect thousands of human beings throughout the nation. When you couple this horrible decision with the recent tragic events in and surrounding Houston, Texas it has been a debilitating and heart-wrenching time for many Hispanic people in our country.
That the parents of these undocumented young people broke the law has never been in question.
The justice of punishing their children is in question.
How many of us would like our children punished for our sins? How can anyone claim that is remotely fair in any society, much less one that proclaims liberty and justice as hallmarks of our very founding as a nation.
By and large, these good people actually have lived in the United States most of their lives, brought here from Mexico or Central and South America when they were very young.
They have played on their high school football and basketball teams, and they have been cheerleaders and band members.
Many are or were honor students with excellent grades, and all have become integrated into the social fabric of the community in which they grew up. Most of them are in school or working in jobs that contribute to the economic welfare of our nation and almost all of them pay considerable taxes to local, state and national governments.
For the most part, they speak English with an American accent.
They think of themselves as Americans, not as citizens of their parents’ country of origin. Many of them don’t even remember anything about their place of birth and many have no relatives to return to.
The fact that their parents entered the United States illegally, many years ago, is no fault of their own, though they will now once again live in constant fear of deportation.
For all intents and purposes, they have been residents of this country, even if they have not been citizens of this country.
I also think it is important to note that no one is suggesting that they get preferential treatment—just fair treatment.
They are not taking a citizen’s place in our country and they are not here at the expense of an American citizen. Many of the jobs they fill are not remotely of interest to Americans. For those lucky enough to afford or access a higher education, the vast number of them are outstanding people that contribute sizably to American commerce and social stability. American higher education has the capacity to accept more qualified students all across our land.
And here is what is also factual about undocumented people:
· They have created rich and vibrant communities in our midst.
· By and large, they are extraordinarily good neighbors.
· This population has a low crime rate and a high rate of home ownership.
· They have both a strong work ethic and strong family values.
· And they have a high regard for education and religious values.
· Latino youth represent an important part of the nation’s human capital.
Those are the undisputed facts.
We need to be integrating these young people into our society as quickly and deeply as possible, not fighting to keep them out.
Quite simply, it will be America’s catastrophic loss if they are deported.
Critics might argue that allowing these students to stay in the United States and access the American opportunity system will only encourage further illegal immigration – that it rewards their parents’ crimes.
I certainly do not condone illegal immigration, but the reality is that on a national level our immigration policy is broken. Punishing young people, a decade after they arrived here through no action of their own, is not going to fix the problem, but likely do more damage than good to our community, our state, and our nation.
These are our friends and neighbors. We should give them a hand up, rather than a push aside, which will only create more problems and resentment.
Our nation was built on many ideals; equality, justice, compassion, opportunity, respect and diversity.
Diversity makes the unusual familiar and the intolerable understandable. It turns strangers into friends and humanizes behaviors and practices that otherwise seem foreign or upsetting. Diversity increases the measure of understanding in this world, the quality of compassion, and the level of tolerance and respect. Diversity illuminates the darkness of ignorance and diminishes the unsettling threats of the unknown.
Seventeen years into the twenty-first century, there is still far too much ignorance, intolerance, and misunderstanding in the world, both here in this country, and abroad.
DACA is the right thing to do for these young people, and it is the right thing to do for America.
G. David Gearhart, Chancellor Emeritus University of Arkansas