Immigration Mythbusters: Starting the Conversation
During the end of summer and beginning of fall 2017, I watched through my television screen as DACA came under threat from the Trump administration and its staunch anti-immigration stance. DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an executive order passed during the Obama administration that provided temporary protection from deportation, the ability to work, and the ability to apply for a Social Security number to undocumented immigrants who came to the US when they were under 16. I was shocked that this policy that was protecting the lives of almost 700,000 people could be so easily overwritten, leaving innocent people in peril. And more importantly, I was frustrated that party politics and politicians’ egos were being valued over a policy that has helped so many people.
At school, no one really talked about what was happening to DACA, except for my Debate Coach and French teacher. In my opinion, the fall of DACA should have warranted the same amount of coverage in school as the increasingly frequent mass shootings happening in this country. Every night, I would come home and sit with my parents watching the dismal news about the fate of DACA while eating dinner. My friend Emely and I got to a point of peak frustration. It was the second month of junior year (reportedly the most stressful year of high school), but despite the many tests and papers pulling our focus every which way, we decided that if the school wasn’t going to cover this horrible tragedy, then we were going to.
We met with the Head of Student Affairs at our school and decided that we would be the first presentation in a new speaker series at our school called Pushing Perspectives, which gives community members a chance to talk about something important to them. Emely and I decided to call our presentation “Immigration Mythbusters” because we intended to clear up popular myths that the media perpetuates about immigration. In the weeks leading up to our presentation, we sent out emails, put up flyers, posted on Instagram, all in an effort to get as many people as possible to attend our presentation.
“Immigration Mythbusters” contained so many slides, we knew there was no way we would get through all the information in one lunch period. We were nervous that no one would come or that people would be bored, but once we had set up the computer, Emely and I turned around to be greeted by a room filled to capacity with smiling, curious faces. We saw our friends, people in our classes, our teachers, but the most exciting thing was seeing how many of the younger middle school students came. We didn’t know any of them and didn’t really have a way to promote our presentation to the younger grades, so seeing that these students still came to hear the discussion was extremely uplifting.
We talked about the reasons people immigrate in the first place, the opportunities they seek out in America, and the dangerous situations they may be fleeing. We talked about how difficult it is to become a citizen. We talked about sanctuary cities and how, contrary to the stereotype that immigrants are criminals, immigrant communities are often the victims of more unreported crime because reporting to the police is a threat for undocumented people. We talked about how immigrant laborers stimulate the economy and don’t “steal jobs” but often work extremely difficult jobs that native-born Americans don’t want.
We also talked about how Obama had tried and failed to get the Dream Act to pass through Congress, which is why he passed DACA as an executive order, leaving it susceptible to the wills of the next President. We talked about a possible Trump DACA deal with Democrats on the table at the time, which is quite interesting now knowing that Trump is currently doing anything and everything he can to build his promised Border Wall, including shutting down the government. To supplement the politics, we included videos and stories of people who had benefited from DACA. These stories personalized the presentation by showing that these Dreamers immigrated as children and were able to go to college because of DACA, and now they could be sent back to a country they can’t even remember.
Our presentation also brought to light the evils of the private prison industry, which profits off of a perpetual cycle of detaining people who are not criminals. This issue is especially relevant to my community because we live in California, which has one of the largest populations of people in detention centers. We spotlighted Adelanto, a detention facility that had gotten press coverage for a high number of deaths of detainees and reports of maltreatment.
After Emely and I put down our papers, we couldn’t even take a breath before several hands were raised. People had questions about almost everything we talked about, and the group was especially disturbed by the private prison industry, but more so they were troubled by the fact that they didn’t know there were so many private prisons or how they operated. Everyone wanted more resources, more information, and ways that they could help. While being a minor is a bit of a roadblock when trying to make political change, Emely and I felt that educating and informing our community was a practical way that we could make substantive change.
“Immigration Mythbusters” was a success, and if not for my great mythbusting partner and friend Emely and the support of our school community, it would not have come to fruition. In an opportune moment, Emely and I made a decision to contribute to a broader conversation in our school community. Issues of immigration are especially important to discuss in school communities because immigration policies affect the real lives of real people, but those people’s experiences often get overshadowed by statistics, slanderous racial stereotypes, and the political machine. And most importantly of all, immigration affects all of us; after all, America is a country of immigrants.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.