For American Immigrants, The Real Question Is: What Next?

Living as an undocumented immigrant in President Trump’s America or having friends and loved ones who match this description means you are set up for numerous bouts of anxiety that could be triggered by something as compact as a tweet.

Here’s one that recently opened up fresh wounds:

As President of the United States, I am asking for a legal solution on DACA, not a political one, consistent with the rule of law. The Supreme Court is not willing to give us one, so now we have to start this process all over again.

Within a span of a few days, he managed to stoke the fires of his anti-immigration rhetoric by promising a redress on the Supreme Court ruling which overturned his administration’s intent to dismantle the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and signing an executive order to temporarily suspend new work visas and bar hundreds of thousands of foreigners from seeking employment in the US.

These announcements, predictably, managed to send a wave of panic through America’s immigrant community.
For no reason other than sheer luck, I don’t wear the undocumented immigrant badge. But I’ve been confronted with the abysmal unfairness of the American immigration system multiple times. Sometimes it hits me directly, sometimes it’s a ripple effect of an action targeted at other immigrants like myself – mostly people of colour, but it crushes all the same.

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This was not the President’s first attempt at ending a program which currently benefits nearly 750,000 immigrants dubbed “dreamers” who were brought into the United States as children. Through DACA, they have escaped the deportation dragnet and are able to work legally, attend school and are deeply integrated in nearly every community across the United States. Amazingly, the program has survived President Trump’s assault twice.

In April 2018, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled in favour of DACA, calling the administration’s intent to end the program “virtually unexplained, hence “unlawful.” DACA was again upheld in June 2020 by a Supreme Court vote of 5 to 4 with Chief Justice John Roberts dismissing the administration’s rationale as “arbitrary and capricious”.

The Supreme Court ruling was a victorious one, but I’ve learned from experience not to rejoice too quickly. It was the same Supreme Court that upheld President Trump’s ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries in June 2018. Citizens from eight countries, including two African – Somalia and Chad – are still prohibited from entry into the United States.

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But since no one is talking about the travel ban anymore, let’s get back to DACA.

The fact that about three-quarters of Americans support DACA and 96% of the program’s recipients are either working or in school did not stop the Trump administration’s move to rescind the program. While most of the recipients come from Mexico, at least more than a thousand of them are Africans from Kenya and Nigeria. Africa’s representation in DACA might seem negligible compared to the bigger picture, but add this to the estimated 3% of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, and you begin worrying about their fate. President Trump’s anti-immigration crusade has created an atmosphere of nativism and fear which predates his presidency and has only gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since his tenure began, Trump has implemented more immigration restrictions in the form of executive orders, halting refugee programs, suspension of visas and outright bans than any other US president. These actions have made the task of navigating U.S. immigration rules to stay and work even more complex. The difficult process can be mentally draining, especially for people who have no clear path to maintain legal status.

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Proponents of immigration reforms have argued that the framework for immigration policymaking should be fair and humane. Additionally, the system should have a fair pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But with the current climate of cruelty and marginalization of undocumented immigrants, attaining citizenship is a far stretch. Many just want the right to work with dignity and a respite from living in the shadows.

As an African living in the US, these conversations are rampant within our close-knit circles, a constant reminder that we are not yet out of the woods. It doesn’t matter if you have legal status or not, we are all astounded by these senseless and often racist stereotypes. We linked arms and braced for impact when African nations were referred to as “sh!thole countries”, when Nigerian immigrants were said to never “go back to their huts”, when President Trump expanded his travel restrictions early this year to include four other African countries.

So, excuse me if I’m not in the mood for rejoicing over the DACA victory. The real question is – what next?

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