Christy Smith: Time to hear what Dreamers have to say

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I was born in Wurzburg, Germany.  My birth certificate(s) are a mish mash of documents in German and English and include a “souvenir” birth certificate courtesy of the U.S. Army, along with a hand-written receipt for the $7.50 my parents paid to take me home from the U.S. Army hospital where I was born.  Born of two U.S. citizens, my father an enlisted man at the time, there’s never been a doubt that I am an American.  In the fall of 1969, my parents headed back state-side; 6 month old me in tow.

Flash forward to the 80’s, approaching my 18th birthday and my mother sharing with me her recollection that I may be eligible to apply for dual German citizenship if I chose, by virtue of my place of birth.  Interesting as it sounded to be something as cosmopolitan as a dual citizen, I knew I had no ties to Germany whatsoever.  I knew little of the culture only some of the history, and having chosen French in high school, I certainly didn’t speak the language.  I am through and through an American and opted to remain so.  It’s the only country I’ve ever known.

This week as I stood on the campus of College of the Canyons in support of Dreamers, children afforded protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order instituted by President Obama in 2012, I could feel the fear and anxiety of the many students present, but afraid to speak, as their future is now uncertain.  While President Trump’s intent in rescinding the DACA order very well may be to ensure a permanent legislative solution for these young people, they now face an uncertain future.  A future in which they could be removed to their country of birth, a country they’ve never known, to a culture and language that may be as foreign to them as German would have been to me.

Of the 800,000 DACA recipients nationwide, over 220,000 live in California and it is estimated that over 73,000 attend public colleges and universities in the state, the majority of those, some 60,000 students attend community colleges. (EdSource 9/1/17) What is at stake for these hard-working young people is significant. Those attending college could face loss of residency status if the matter is not addressed within the six-month expiration period, making college fees and tuition out of reach for most.  Additionally, their jobs may be at risk.

Survey results indicate that nationwide 97% of DACA recipients are employed and or enrolled in school.  Of those who have completed their course of study, 54% have moved on to jobs that pay more and match their qualifications, 5% started their own business. Further, 72% of the top 25 Fortune 500 Companies employ DACA recipients. (Center for American Progress 8/28/17)  To argue that these young people aren’t an integral and essential part of our economy doesn’t hold water.  They were brought here by optimistic parents to pursue the American dream and under DACA they were living up to that promise.  Fortunately, the California Legislature has stepped up to the plate to fill in the gaps with proposals for funding for education costs and legal aid while they await the federal outcome. (SB 119, AB 134, Sacramento Bee 9/13/17)

What we are left grappling with then is nothing new, the realization that we have a broken immigration system.  We know this.  We know we have vastly different partisan approaches to solving this ongoing crisis, yet the road we pursue to remedy it, or worse further in-action, will define who we are as a country for decades to come.  I hope we can all agree that as Americans, who pride ourselves on fairness, we must strive to create an immigration system that is easy to understand, affordable, allows a wide path of entry for those fleeing political, religious, or gender persecution, and is backed by appropriately funded agencies and enforcement resources.  We must do all of this while reminding ourselves that immigration isn’t merely political and economic, it’s humanitarian.  I remain cautiously optimistic that the issue has reached a tipping point with the lives of these 800,000 young people in the balance and that Congress will rise to the challenge they have been presented.

My intent in writing this piece was not to provide fodder for the comment mill which will undoubtedly light up upon publication, but to start a dialogue in this community about what it means to be an immigrant, first generation, second, or many times removed.   For some of us, we must listen to these stories, while acknowledging what it means to have grown up with the privilege of being born American, and the rights and obligations to a diverse and free nation that implies.  We must strive to a better and deeper understanding of the facts and the myths surrounding immigration. Undoubtedly, we will understand so much more by recounting personal stories, first hand experiences with our immigration system, good and bad, past, present, and hopes for the future.  I implore civil discourse, and remind the reader that at some point in every family’s history there was a dreamer.

Christy Smith is a Santa Clarita resident who is running for the 38th Assembly District seat.

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