Undocumented Immigrants Are Entitled to the American Dream

Citizen or not, everyone deserves a shot at equal opportunity.

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Jul 4 2017, 2:00pm

Photo by AP Courtesy of Cesar Vargas

This is an opinion piece from Cesar Vargas, the co-director the Dream Action Coalition and the first openly undocumented attorney to practice law in New York State.

We used to be a nation that celebrated the Statue of Liberty. Now we are a nation that wants to build a wall. Instead of looking to the future, this nation is relegating itself to the cynicism of the past. This is not making America great.

President Donald Trump said he was going to show "great heart" and that he wouldn't deport Dreamers and yet, the nation is seeing the rise of a deportation force that is creating a climate of fear and deporting Dreamers and good people.

Most recently, Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old Dreamer, with a cognitive disability was deported back to Mexico. Juan was granted protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program put into place by former President Barack Obama.

Even though this is the country I call home, as an undocumented immigrant, uncertainty looms over my life under this new immigration policies. Under Trump's presidency, I now have to call my 73-year old mom ten times a day to make sure she is ok. Also, I have little children telling me they are afraid of going to school and one of my clients was afraid of going to a courthouse to pay his traffic ticket fearing he might be arrested and deported.


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Even some U.S. born Latinos in my community feel they now have to carry their American passport just in case they come in contact with immigration.

In the 1850s, the "Know Nothing" party gained power as they exploited anti-immigrant sentiment to target Irish, German, and Italian new arrivals. We've seen this throughout history with signs indicating "Irish need not apply." Today, we have people shouting "Build the Wall" to Latino families.

People assume their family immigrated legally. In most cases, this statement does not reflect the fact that the immigration system was drastically different in the past, and that many of your families would not have been allowed to enter had today's laws been in effect.

There are plenty of reports during the 1920's of immigrants jumping ship as the most common form of illegal entry by European nationals, with estimates that 180,000 had deserted the ships to evade immigration authorities with thousands literally swimming to Staten Island. Indeed, my current Republican congressman's own great grandfather came here without legal status.

When many immigrants arrived in the United States decades ago, there were no requirements to have an existing family or employment relationship with someone in the country, and no requirement to obtain a visa before arriving, as is the case now.

Under today's outdated immigration system there is simply no "right way" available for millions of people (unless the U.S. grants amnesty like it did for the Cubans.)

There is no question that some U.S. born Americans feel left behind from the global economy and feel that the American Dream is becoming more and more out of reach. Unfortunately, politicians — like Donald Trump — readily lump all immigrants into the culprits who are stealing the American Dream.

Trump is misleading the American people. He said we should buy American-made products and yet his businesses buy from China and other countries. On healthcare, he said "insurance for everybody," and yet under the most recent bill from GOP Senators, almost 22 million Americans would have lost coverage.

Trump says he can keep the American Dream alive. The American Dream, however, is fueled by Americans — citizen or not — who labor each day to make this nation a more perfect union that can live up to the liberties enshrined in our founding documents.

I saw this every day when my undocumented mother got up each morning at five in the morning to collect aluminum cans so that she could sell them and save for my law school tuition.

"We the People" keep the American Dream alive, not politicians, and it belongs to us all.