In 2009, University of Michigan anthropologist Jason De León and photographer Richard Barnes were working near the United States-Mexico border outside Tucson, Arizona, telling stories of U.S. immigration. Hiking along the well-traveled routes into the U.S., the two found hundreds of discarded backpacks from migrants who had crossed the border.
Each backpack is different. Embroidered on the front pockets are characters such as Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse or Bart Simpson. All backpacks contained clothes and necessities for a trek farther north.
Needless to say, many of these backpacks belonged to children. These children, and their own children, are strong, brave and deserve to be protected by U.S. law.
“I realized that you have this highly politicized social process that’s incredibly clandestine and misunderstood,” De León told the New York Times regarding his photographs. “I just want the public to have a better understanding of what it actually looks like.”
Three years later, in 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to give temporary legal protection to young, undocumented adults who once carried backpacks like the ones described above.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is an executive order that protects children of immigrants from deportation and provides work permits.
“We’ve always drawn strength from being a nation of immigrants, as well as a nation of law,” Obama said upon the program’s announcement.
Now, we have President Trump and his immigration policy positions, which are almost entirely formulated by racism. On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions — under orders from President Trump — announced that the administration would end the DACA program, despite its recipients' enormous economic and social contributions to the U.S. since the program’s inception.
If Congress does not pass legislation within the next six months to permanently protect the program, nearly 800,000 young unauthorized immigrants will be deported and terrorized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Many DACA recipients are currently in their late teenage years or early 20s and are pursuing higher education and professional success.
DACA was never a path to citizenship, but it was the closest thing children of undocumented immigrants could get to full protection under the law. While their parents were still demonized for illegally entering the country, the Obama administration tried to offer undocumented youth a chance to feel somewhat safe.
“We should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by denying them the chance to stay here, and earn an education, and contribute their talents to build the country where they’ve grown up,” President Obama said, according to the New York Times.
The people that DACA protects are the children of immigrant parents who cared so much for them as to risk everything to provide a better life. They are deserving of any legal protection or path to citizenship that the federal government can provide. President Trump, by revoking this program, puts DACA recipients’ lives and personal information in danger.
America is and always will be a nation of immigrants. Congress must act fast to ensure DACA remains the law of the land. It’s the only way to show that immigrants and their children are valued and worthy of every opportunity.
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