I woke the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 29 to the sound of my mother crying on the other side of the wall. I was paralyzed as I listened to her talking to my brother on the phone while he, his wife and my two-year-old niece were trying to evacuate their home in Houston. They’d made one attempt already. The picture my brother described — the bayou next to their apartment complex filling to the brim, all the roads closed, hundreds of people waiting in line trying to leave on the few rescue boats — matched the chaos I saw on the news coming from Texas. Images of water washing away red clay soil, highways that have turned into deep rivers, rescue teams on boats taking victims from the rooftops of their homes. The whole country watched as Hurricane Harvey forced people from their homes and tore families apart.
Across Texas — and across the country — another force threatens to break up neighborhoods, families, and young people whose only crime is to want to work, study and contribute to their communities. For some 85,000 immigrant youths in Houston, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, will mean more devastation: Shattered lives, destroyed dreams and broken families. Across the country, DACA has provided a legal opportunity for nearly 800,000 “dreamers” — undocumented young people who came to the United States as children — to live, go to school and work without fear of deportation. All this on top of the looming threat of SB4, which a federal judge temporarily stopped last week. The law would outlaw sanctuary cities in Texas and create an even more hostile environment for immigrants.
SB4 is a direct result of the xenophobia, racism and hatred that is plaguing our country, which we saw erupt in full force in Charlottesville. The same evils that President Trump showed an inability to denounce forcefully after the white supremacist rally. The same evils that he validated by denying the context of slavery which Confederate monuments represent, and failing to recognize the one side whose radicalized desire to uphold the conception embedded in the monuments resulted in a young woman’s death.
It was the same dynamic at play in the pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Through this act, Trump is effectively rewarding his base and giving them consent to spew hatred against immigrants. He is consenting to a selective “nationalism” that blames economic problems on foreigners, rather than the structure that maintains economic inequality.
While SB4 in Texas has been temporarily blocked — a small victory — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with nine other attorneys general, threatened to sue to block DACA if the program was ended by Sept. 5. If Trump fails to protect DACA, it sends a clear signal to white supremacists, haters, xenophobes and the far-right that he not only supports their agenda of racism and bigotry, but that he is also willing to use the power of his office to advance it.
The thought that this administration is slamming the door on an entire generation of immigrant youth is repulsive, and the message it sends is dangerous and heartbreaking. DACA represents the values that make America strong. Values that we’ve seen manifested in the response to Hurricane Harvey — values of community, shared identity, family, compassion, opportunity and perseverance.
This country gives an identity to people who are stateless. People who leave unbearable, life-threatening situations over which they have no control. To them, America represents hope and possibility. DACA made that hope and possibility real for hundreds of thousands of dreamers — young people who are already here, paying their fair share. Young people who have integrated into communities across the country, who have families. Young people who have helped shape their neighborhoods and will be there to help rebuild Houston if we let them.
I implore everyone — especially Congress — to defend their right to remain in the U.S., the land that is their home.
This article first appeared on the Sun Sentinel.