By John Fetterman and Gisele Barreto Fetterman
The Supreme Court was very clear less than two months ago: President Donald Trump broke the law when he tried to end the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects immigrants who were brought here without documentation when they were children.
The program has allowed hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers” to live, work, and learn in the only country they’ve ever known without fear that their families will be torn apart.
Despite this ruling, Trump decided to double down on his ongoing attempts to sabotage the DACA program and rob these innocent youth of the futures they have worked so hard for.
In doing so he is attacking the dreams of countless Pennsylvanians such as Arlette Morales, a high school senior in York, who just wants to worry about normal high school student things like dances and going to college, but now she has to constantly look over her shoulder, never certain what tomorrow will bring.
This issue is personal to us. We understand all too well the stress that living with such basic uncertainty can cause, as Gisele was brought here without documentation by her mother when she was a child. She and her family lived in constant fear that they would be discovered and lose their shot at the American Dream.
Every morning before school, Gisele’s mom would urge both her and her brother to “be invisible.” No child should have to live with that kind of stress; they deserve to feel secure in the knowledge that they can do normal things like go to school and play sports without living in constant fear that they will lose their family.
Criminal justice reform has been one of the central focuses of John’s political career, and we see our current immigration system, especially under this administration, as part of America’s historic legacy of criminalizing black, brown, and indigenous bodies for reasons that are arbitrary and capricious at best, and fueled by fear and hate at worst.
Our country faces real, systemic problems. And criminalizing high school students who just want to live a normal life does nothing to make any of us happier, healthier, or safer.
Our immigration system has been broken for a long time. We need to design and invest in humane, commonsense immigration reforms that will restore our legacy as a nation built by immigrants.
Separating families, locking kids in cages, denying pandemic relief to tax-paying residents, and trying to make sure undocumented folks aren’t counted in the Census serve no legitimate purpose, and make you realize that the cruelty really is the point.
The public is coming to realize this as well. A new poll shows that 57 percent of Americans are more concerned about “cruel and inhumane immigration policies,” than they are about “open border immigration policies.”
For some, these moral arguments aren’t persuasive enough, so consider this: there are currently 27,000 DACA recipients working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic as health care workers.
There are nearly 200 undocumented students and residents currently training to become doctors at American medical schools. Sure it’s cruel to keep these folks in limbo, but it’s also just stupid. These folks are doing their best to “be the helpers” and keep us all healthy. What possible reason could there be for wanting to throw them out?
We live in the real world, and we know that the problems facing our country aren’t going to be fixed overnight, and especially not in the run-up to an election, but there is one small, meaningful step towards justice that we could take right now if Congress can find the courage.
Congress has the power to make DACA permanent. In fact, the Dream and Promise Act has already passed the House, and the Senate could take it up today if they were so inclined.
Even if the Senate lacks the courage to do the right thing and make DACA permanent, the very least they can do is provide Dreamers with work authorizations in the next COVID-19 relief package. Undocumented folks were already left out of the stimulus, even though they pay taxes. In some cases, high school students have had to support their families because their parents are laid off. These folks just want to build lives for themselves, and allowing them to work is the literal least we can do.
We need to let the Dreamers live their dreams, and if we can find the courage to do so, it will make things better for all of us.
John Fetterman, a Democrat, is the elected lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. Second Lady Gisele Barreto Fetterman is an access and equity advocate and founder of Freestore 15104. They write from their home in Braddock, Pa.