DACA Rescinded & Poets Respond
This week it was announced that President Trump is moving to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program that allows nearly 800,000 people protection from deportation and the ability to live and work in the United States. In the news, it has been highlighted that this move will create a loss of jobs and revenue for the United States and it will also break up families. The move to rescind DACA will endanger and shatter many people’s lives. Since the announcement, fear, anger, and protests have filled the streets.
In response to this announcement about the repeal of DACA, I have asked my friends, all of whom are poets, all of whom have different relationships to migration and citizenship, to respond to three questions. I asked my friends: what is the point of DACA? What does it mean to be an immigrant? What do you want the government or public to know at this moment in history? Below are the poets’ responses to these questions. All of the responses were given on the day of or the day after the announcement.
I am getting my MFA in poetry, and today, when my poems were read in class, my readers picked up on the doubleness and passivity of the speaker. One line reads "So much of life just happens." Being an undocumented immigrant has meant that many of the decisions that define a life (school, job, visiting family, travel) were being taken from me. It is on that level that DACA was so crucial. It allowed me to work at a school for children with PTSD, attend graduate school, and fall in love with someone who isn't a U.S. citizen (because otherwise, I had been told, like so many others, marrying an American is your only chance). Although it was expensive, DACA allowed me to visit my grandpa when he was diagnosed with cancer; it briefly released everyone in my family of the fear they held about my safety; it created a community of incredibly joyful and talented undocumented folks with whom I could share in tears and laughter. We need better solutions, but we can't sacrifice the good hoping for perfection—our lives cannot wait.
I am thinking about how much our struggles are intersectional—particularly in who gets to be children, and at what age the law decides when we become adults. I can't let go of knowing that, if things had been different and if I/my family had to wait for DACA, only *I* would have been eligible to apply and would have only been so by four months. I was eight years old when I came here. My brothers wouldn't have been considered by their guidelines, and they, too, were children when we arrived. Neither would have my cousins (they came with paperwork, but we all immigrated at the same time). I would have been the only one in my entire family who would have been protected under DACA if things had been different for all of us.
My grandfather was a peasant Jew who never went to a day of school. He barely escaped being murdered, came to America, and made a better life for his whole family. It's the best possible version of the American story. I wish people didn't feel like they need to leave where they are from, but if they do, they must be welcome here. Anyone who wants to be an American already is, simply by desiring to be. Everyone, anywhere in the world, has an equal right to that story.
Claudia D. Hernández
I was brought here when I was ten. This doesn't compare to what more than a million Dreamers are going through right now. Many of the students at my school might get deported, siblings and parents… Aquí estamos. This is where we found our home away from home. This is where we belong. Mother Earth, who feeds us all, takes our roots, their roots, no matter how long, how short—she’s whispering: this is where you belong. R E S I S T! R E S I S T! Pelea con diente y madre! This is where you belong, Dreamer!
For a nation of immigrants, it's become shameful. We act as if (unless you're bringing lots of money) you are a panhandler or a criminal. Considering that in its history America robbed the land from native Americans, robbed labor from blacks, and seized a massive amount of Mexico, I'm not sure what our borders mean except the current limits of a giant shopping experiment. Who isn't an immigrant. It's impossible to answer, which is why ending this program is such an outrage. Whose country is this? Whose country did this? Not mine. Our government is not governing. It's violating us all.
I grew up in Europe at a time when the trending, right wing rhetoric was to send the children of all immigrants "back to where they came from." I had the feeling, at times, that I had not really been born. That emptiness carried through. It's what a child, in particular, might internalize as worthlessness. What could be more cruel? Yet, and we already know this: this is how colonization works. It strips you of your human-ness, your connection to place and home. Dear Government, no.
The employees of this government should know they are complicit in this crime, and removing this essential program is a crime. The employees of this government are robbing people of the lives they have worked to create in a country that was founded on immigrants working to create lives here. I am not directly impacted by DACA, but my husband is an immigrant and my family came as immigrants and I would love to do whatever I can to protest this disgusting decision.
Alan Pelaez Lopez
You are strong. This is neither the end nor the beginning. Yes, DACA has changed our lives, but it is also a crumb our community has received. We must know that when we defend DACA we must not defend it because "DREAMers" deserve to be here, but because slave economies must end. Undocumented immigrants are used as slave labor. We were forced to migrate out of our homes. Violence against indigenous people has forced them to move out. Undocumented immigrants are indigenous, black, queer, trans, & resilient. Being undocumented didn't just happen. We come from a place of scarcity and incredible possibility. This is not the end nor the beginning. Undocumented eloteros, domestic workers, graphic designers, writers, and construction workers have started their own businesses without DACA. We should look at them for leadership. Yes, let's fight for DACA, & let's fight harder for all of our community members who were never seen as valuable to benefit from the program. Let's fight for my undocumented black 19 yr old kin in Atlanta who doesn't have a birth certificate and can never apply for a status change. Let's fight for my mother who has been in this country for 20+ years; let's fight for my femmetor, who has been in this country for 30+ years and arrived at the age of 4 and does not have DACA; let's fight for my colleague who has a 2yr old daughter whose life will change if she loses DACA. Let's fight for each other, not just the "DREAMer"
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
To me, DACA being rescinded is proof that the U.S. has always been a project of white supremacy. While I believe all immigrants— documented or not, "successful" by the fucked up standards of capitalism or not—deserve to be here, the current actions demonstrate that notions of fairness and rule of law were always just tools to prop up white supremacy and dehumanize anyone to whom whiteness is not granted. This shifting of goal posts when it comes to who is allowed to be here shows us that U.S. immigration policy is unabashedly a form of ethnic cleansing.
DACA was a start. Many have already forgotten it exists as an executive order by the Obama White House because Congress could not come up with legislation to help protect immigrants brought to this country as children. The people protected by DACA are Americans, people who grew up here, people who know no other country than the United States. I am a citizen of the United States, but I was not born here. I did not become a citizen until I was a teenager. I have no recollection of living anywhere but the United States. As a poet and writer, I feel it is especially important to stand up for immigrants. This country was built by immigrants. If you are not Native American, you are the descendants of immigrants. We are all human beings. None among us is "illegal." Those affected by rescinding DACA are our brothers and sisters, members of our communities. They teach our kids, work in our hospitals, serve in our military, pay taxes. We must stand up for them because to do so is to stand up for the American Dream.
I write because queer immigrant experiences matter, because I am a tired, queer immigrant/permanent resident, because I have been tired for a long time—fed up with the exploitative labor, the racist fear-mongering, the depiction of immigrants as lesser and, therefore, deserving of the least. I support DACA and every effort towards justice for exhausted and marginalized immigrant communities.
My mother's father came to the U.S. from Poland by way of Mexico. He owned a general store in Chicago and then moved to L.A. and worked the rest of his life selling tablecloths and shower curtains at the Fairfax Swap Meet. Son, my cousin recently discovered, of a long line of rabbis and mystic Jewish teachers he never once talked about. The first time I was going to Europe, he got very nervous and said, "Whaddya wanna go there for? You got a nice country right here!" Do I? Lately, I'm not sure. Rescinding DACA is a racist act, xenophobic, enabled by cynical politicians. And Americans who truly believe that rescinding DACA is part of a necessary curb on immigration, is part of saving American jobs for Americans? Know what the Technorati want to muzzle: immigrants didn't steal your jobs—computers did.
DACA means that the U.S. government will fulfill (and will allow or require its agents to fulfill) some of the minimal commitments required of decent human beings: that we not practice cruelty to children, for example. It's also one big step closer to fulfilling the promise on the Statue of Liberty, the promise that the United States welcomes—and benefits from!—at least some people who are not already citizens, people who can contribute a lot, with only a little help.
Art is great, but art isn’t enough. Protest can be great, but it isn't enough. Vote in every election, if you can. Vote in local elections. Act locally. Run for local office, or consider running. Get to know your state senator, as well as your House member, if you have one. If we can keep the right to vote, and to have our votes counted, for state and local as well as national government, we can get out of this mess. But that's a big if.
DACA, at my most optimistic, is a long overdue reconciliatory action by a bifurcated governing body that creates a citizenship path for those most essential to the renewal of the vivacity in the United States of America. At my severest, DACA appears to be the furthering of centuries of hegemony by an empire woefully, purposefully insistent on oppression of the many for the benefit of the few, creating a dual revenue of money and obedience. The difference between me being a citizen of the U.S.A. and an immigrant is 18 miles, the length of the New York City Tune Up Marathon, the amount of books in Strand Book Store, only half the size of Disney World, or the speed at which a "cheetah" robot can run per hour on a treadmill. In many ways, a border is no more than a razor. Government originated as a nautical term, meaning to steer, which they are doing towards capsizal. We must resist.
With or without DACA, these 800,000 young people would have ultimately been pressed into becoming extraordinary to be eligible to apply for a green card. The USCIS website cites Pulitzer Prize and Oscar winners as examples of such candidates. Failing this, an undocumented immigrant is often pressed into marriage with a U.S. citizen instead. In 2003, I married a man who did not beat me, did not rape me, did not threaten to withdraw my green card application if I dared contact the police. There are countless undocumented women who are not lucky. Fifteen years ago, the black market rate in New York was: If you were an undocumented man, you could pay $30,000 to marry a citizen. If you were an undocumented woman, you could pay only $3,000, but you might pay with your life, too. It’s true DACA offered no path of its own to citizenship. It offered reprieve only to the most select group of immigrants who arrived before they were 16, yet were under 31 in 2012. It excluded their parents, the older, the younger, and anyone who couldn’t finish high school. But it was the scant beginning of something else; of demonstrating to some undocumented they need not be transformed.
Dear Dreamers, when I feel hopeless or lost in this world, I think of your strength and courage. I see and hear you. I will continue to listen to your stories. I stand with you. Proudly.
It looks like we have finally done it; we have turned the accident of birth into an accidental crime. We have told 800,000 kids to go home, when they are home. If they are not Americans, neither am I. But I am an American and refuse to give in to the lie that wants to fill the transports with accents and darker skins. This a moment the world is watching and waiting to see who we declare ourselves to truly be; are we this?
[My grandfather crossed the border illegally with his mother when he was a child. Later, he became a U.S. citizen.] The biggest way to silence someone is to make them live in constant fear, but you cannot silence all of us that know what it is to have a parent or a grandparent risk their lives to cross a border so that we could feel safe, write, or make art. They gave us a voice and we're going to use it.
DACA is a necessary net that caught many people but not me. I met every single requirement for eligibility except one. I was born before the cutoff date of June 15, 1981. Being an immigrant poet, especially an undocumented one, gives me a unique perspective to see even more than what might be on the surface. I’ve lived undocumented in the U.S. for more than 32 years. 32 years unable to leave. I’ve stolen your hotel towels, drank too much at your bars, and had fun in very dark rooms. I’ve lied on your forms, smiled my way through your interview, and written my own letter of recommendation. I’ve tutored English for free and trained volunteers on how to fill plastic containers with soup. I’ve cooked in restaurants I couldn’t afford to eat at. I won your prestigious awards, read my poem to the class, careful not to mispronounce anything. It’s a fucking miracle anyone has time to dream, let alone succeed. For an immigrant child to choose a life in art, especially poetry, feels like a soft rebellion.
DACA is the gateway to a sense of freedom that I always dreamt of as a child. I lived in the U.S. undocumented for over two decades. Although, I obtained citizenship prior to DACA, I am still haunted by the fear and loneliness that lived in my bones from my childhood. Being an immigrant means being able to navigate multiples worlds while maintaining the balance of one's identity. Being an immigrant means having the hopes and dreams of your elders and ancestors with you at all times. Being an immigrant means always being an immigrant. Being an immigrant poet/artist means constant reflection of one's immigrant identity. Support of DACA and immigrant rights in general should not be based or supported solely by an individual's accomplishments and contribution to society. This is about equality, and not about perpetuating the immigrant mentality that we must work twice as hard to be equal.
A few years ago, I interviewed a dreamer who told me, jokingly, that the only thing that he liked about DACA was that it was not deportation. DACA was expensive, did not lead to citizenship, and favored photogenic youth (“good immigrants”) while excluding older family members (“bad immigrants”). When I was a lawyer for an undocumented Muslim teen who’d been imprisoned by Homeland Security, we had our legal strategy, but what I also saw was the attorneys of the state’s inability to imagine my client as a human being—this was a failure not just of the law, but of imagination. One solution for this is to create space for writers who are themselves undocumented.
The radical migrant justice movement orients itself towards an impossible horizon: a world without borders and without a state. Impossible horizons seem to me to be the specialty of the poet. And if the role of the poet is that of a dreamer, of a maker of possibilities, then I think that the poet can imagine beyond American nationalism, and imagine the coming community that will replace it, if we are to survive. For when we call an undocumented activist a “dreamer,” it seems like not an accident that the word echoes back to King’s struggles to dream a new future and to the mythopoetic speculation: all revolutionary politics is surrealist in nature.
It’s so simple and small. When I received DACA in 2012, I felt that I was finally free to be mobile, to move, whether across the country or down the street for groceries. It hit me hardest when my employer asked to see my social and I filled out the I-9 Employment Verification Form with my real name and number.
I've always had a difficult time with a country stolen from Native Americans, whose entire economic system has been built on the backs of enslaved people, to declare someone "illegal." I think DACA is important, necessary, and not enough. Dreamers should have been granted citizenship instead of held hostage in these two-year increments. I think, both historically and in contemporary times, to be an immigrant (especially an immigrant of color) is to be the economic and cultural backbone of America, while simultaneously occupying that surreal space of both invisibility and American racial resentment. I often think, if my mother—who had a knack for seeing things coming—was still alive, how she would feel today, about the U.S. citizenship she worked multiple decades to get? My job as a poet, who is first and foremost always her child, is to never stop asking that question. I'd like our government and the public to know that history is long—all over the world, people of color and immigrants, both on foreign soil and in their homelands, survive slavery, genocide, poverty, structural oppression, and gaslighting designed to eat away at our dignity and cultural memories. We survive it all. I think history (if humanity survives climate change) will look back at this time and see it for what it is: White supremacy's Pyrrhic victory. And hopefully it's last.
Let this be REQUIRED of our citizenship: that governance emerge BEYOND all economic argument. We know odysseys past & those of our day; because of them we know ourselves. From the roots of migro (to move), the word emerge is derived. The Book says, "Am I my brother's keeper?" He said, "What have you done?" From THIS, let there be a colossal reckoning.
- Stephen Burt
- Eileen Myles
- Matthew Zapruder
- Bhanu Kapil
- Idra Novey
- Eduardo C. Corral
- Cornelius Eady
- David Tomas Martinez
- Dana Levin
- Hafizah Geter
- Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
- Janine Joseph
- Chen Chen
- Ada Límon
- Ken Chen
- Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
- Steph Burt
- Ricardo Maldonado
- Kat Almirañez
- Jan-Henry Gray
- Esther Lin
- C. Dale Young
- Alan Pelaez Lopez
- Claudia D. Hernández
- Anni Liu
Poet and activist Christopher Soto, who also uses the name Loma, is the son of El Salvadoran immigrants. He was educated at New York University. In his poems, Soto engages themes of intimacy, trauma, and identity. In a 2014 blog essay for VIDA, Soto writes, “At dinner she asked why I...