Let’s not beat around the bush. If the 800,000 Dreamers lose DACA protections, it will be a total human disaster. You might not know that by following the media coverage, because much of the breathless commentary is about conservatives vs. liberals and Republicans vs. Democrats. Certainly, this is a bare-knuckled political battle.
But let’s not forget the deeply human impact from this fight. In New York City alone, 30,000 Dreamers will have their lives turned upside down.
Thousands of nonprofits like The Door and University Settlement, which I lead, know this all too well because we’re the ones who work in the trenches with the 800,000 and counting Dreamers. DACA may be a federal program, but the real action is in Sunset Park, Elmhurst, East Flatbush, Grand Concourse and many other neighborhoods throughout New York City and across the country where we fight for these young immigrants. We know them and their stories. We know that Dreamers are United States citizens by every meaningful measure.
Christian certainly is. He was born in Puebla, Mexico and arrived in Brooklyn when he was 5 years old. His memories of Puebla and that first plane ride are vague, but he vividly recalls his anticipation at seeing snow for the first time. Elementary school was a struggle as he learned English, and by the fourth grade he was in danger of being held back. He realized he needed to read more and buckle down.
At about the same time, when he was 10 years old, he got his first job so he could help support his family. Hard work and sheer determination landed him in the honors program by the eighth grade. This past June, he graduated at the top of his Bay Ridge high school class; he started at Hunter College a few weeks ago. The other major milestone in his young life was when he got DACA at the age of 15; finally, he could imagine achieving his dream of becoming a biochemist.
President Trump reneged on his promise to protect Dreamers. He put Christian’s future at risk, and threatened to send him back to a country where he can barely speak the language and would have trouble getting a job or going to school. Multiply that by 800,000 and the scale of the human disaster is frightening to imagine.
As with many Americans, I have a personal and emotional reaction to this disturbing turn of events. I am a child of immigrants, and when I hear how these young Americans are at risk of being deported, I can’t help but think of my father, who escaped from Nazi Germany and arrived in Washington Heights when he was 4 years old. In 1939, he was one of the lucky ones, because xenophobia and anti-Semitism were rampant in America at that time and many Jews were turned away and sent back to Europe, where many died in concentration camps.
Racism masquerading as xenophobia has reared its ugly head in the United States, but this time the targets are young people of color from around the world. If they are sent back to their birth countries, they will face violence, unimaginable poverty and the loss of the only home they have ever known. As a country, we will lose a generation of striving Americans.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. All of us at The Door and University Settlement will never stop fighting for these young people. We will raise our voice, fight, march, and tweet until the Dreamers are safe at home. We need all New Yorkers and all Americans to stand with us.
Weingartner is chief executive officer of University Settlement and The Door.