Open Letter on DACA
November 15th, 2017
This is a letter I wrote several days ago, addressed to certain representatives in Congress regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the necessity of providing legal status to the 800,000 beneficiaries of this program (Dreamers). Please read, share, and act on this important issue (see links at the end of the page).
In September, President Trump began the process of rolling back protections for 800,000 young people under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order. The date at which protections will officially begin to expire approaches, and with it, the fear and uncertainty within the immigrant community grows. As we grow closer to the deadline, I challenge you, Senator/Representative, to reflect on what makes you an American, and what makes the 800,000 beneficiaries of DACA - “Dreamers” - any different.
At first glance, there is an easy answer. Perhaps you were born in the United States; therefore, you are American. Dreamers were not born here. Is that the difference? I won’t try to answer this now, but I’ll interject. My America is not the hospital where I was born. Nor is it where my parents were born, nor my grandparents.
My America is the library and the bookstore where I sounded out my first words, where I searched for the next installment of my favorite series, where I snuck into the Young Adult section when my parents thought I was in Middle Grade. My America is between these bookshelves, where I was first immersed by pictures, stories, and ideas - that I read and searched for and clung to and built on, the first ideas that shaped who I was and who I am.
My America is the third-grade classroom where I learned to listen before I disagreed. It is the sixth-grade play where I sang about the imagination. My America is the seventh-grade Social Studies class where I was handed a pocket-copy of the Constitution, and when I began to appreciate and question and dig through the foundations of this country. The values of justice and liberty and equality and more, and our long, tumultuous, and incomplete road toward achieving these ideals. To be part of this journey, in learning about and fighting for the principles written down in aspiration at the birth of this country - this is what makes me an American.
Very little, apart from this struggle to question, learn, and improve, and work toward the fulfillment of freedom and equality, holds the people of the United States of America together. America is vast. It stretches across three thousand miles and fifty states and a third of a continent. Held within this expanse are hundreds of languages. Thousands of cultures. Religions. Races. Genders. All different types of families, jobs, homes, schools, and experiences. We come from places all around the world. The overwhelming majority of the people here don’t have ancestors who were here two hundred years ago, one hundred. Millions of people here weren’t born in America; nor were their parents. I cannot argue that everyone within our borders is the same. There is no singular American Experience. We do not all eat the same foods, celebrate the same holidays, tell the same stories. We enjoy privilege and wealth in shocking variation.
But we are all Americans. Why is this? We are all Americans because each of us grew up with, or learned later in our lives, the values printed upon the masthead of our country that is the Declaration of Independence; the same values that we see in our libraries, in our families, on our streets, and in our schools. That the first flashes of color my eyes perceived were the stripes on the wallpaper of a wall in an American hospital room is of no relevance. What matters is that I grew up to strive for, to fight for, the principles of America - equality, justice, liberty, compassion, opportunity - and that I was surrounded by people who were immersed in a similar struggle.
There are Dreamers who read their first words in the same library that brought me my first stories of bravery, love, and freedom. Dreamers have read the very same Constitution that was handed to me by my seventh-grade Social Studies teacher. They had to have done these things - there was no margin for error for these Dreamers, tasked with the flawless representation of a community of immigrants doubted by too many. They proved their worth and belonging beyond a shadow of a doubt: they went to college, got jobs, boosted the economy, supported families, learned, grew, and created.
Dreamers know the American ideals. They have spent nearly their entire lives in a country that celebrates and claims to achieve these ideals. Perhaps more than me - as a girl who has never had to struggle for equality or compassion in the eyes of the law, nor the guarantee of security in my home. Dreamers embody these ideals. For so long, they have been seen as unequal to legal citizens, undeserving of compassion, undeserving of liberty to choose their futures. And so they have had to struggle for equality, for compassion, for freedom. They have had to struggle for American principles. In a convoluted sort of way, their struggle has brought them closer to the values that our Founding Fathers professed to understand. They could not be more American.
Let me repeat this. They could not be more American.
To ignore Dreamers, to turn them away, to trade them away, to tell them that the pursuit of an American promise is not for them, to deny them the future that their parents hoped for them in bringing them to this land of professed virtue; this is a betrayal of all of our values. This would make us less American.
Do not say that you stand for the safety of our borders and our current citizens if you do not understand why this is a country worth protecting. Do not claim to save places in the economy for people born here when this economy is fed and fueled by the work of immigrants. Do not profess to defend the rule of law when you cannot recognize that our laws should be designed to keep families together and futures intact.
Now, finally, let me come back to my story. I am American. I am American not only because of ink on paper, but also because I have grown up in a society that celebrates values that are American, and because these values are all I’ve ever known. And because I am American, I enjoy certain privileges that allow me safety in my country and my home, and the opportunity to take concrete action in pursuing these values.
When I turn eighteen, because I am American, I will be able to register to vote. I will be represented in Congress. In short, when I turn eighteen, my voice will be heard through the democratic process of voting and legislation -- one of America’s greatest and most defining features. I will be fully recognized as a citizen of the United States of America, and I will enjoy all of the legal protections and privileges this status has to offer. There are privileges of representation, and privileges of identification - privileges that will let me travel as I will, work for my family and this country, and so on. These privileges are absolutely vital.
But somehow, Dreamers - who, all the same, are American, and who would, if given the chance, utilize the democratic process to make their voices heard in the pursuit of our American values - are not allowed this right. Why? For one simple reason - they were not born here.
But as I have said before, where we are born has no effect on who we are, and the values and loyalties we hold. The entire political and social consciousness of a Dreamer is American - that’s how they grew up. And they should have the same chance to be politically represented and lawfully protected as I do.
For this reason, not only do I demand for the sake of your American values not to place Dreamers at risk of deportation and to withdraw their work permits - the potential results of ending DACA - but also that you take steps towards granting legislative protections to these Dreamers. That means speaking out for, and voting for, a clean DREAM Act.
Again. If you wish to be true your oath of office in which you swore to uphold the values of our Constitution, then there is only one thing to do: stand up in support of a clean DREAM Act to grant legal status to all of our American Dreamers, without betraying these values by trading away the livelihoods of others in the immigrant community. Be vocal, be loud, be clear, and you will have taken one step toward the pursuit of a better nation.
I look forward to your immediate and public response.
Lily Seltz, age 14
New York, NY
LINKS TO TAKE ACTION
Call tool: dreamacttoolkit.org
Some scripts: teensresist.weebly.com
New York based organization: maketheroadny.org
National organization: unitedwedream.org