Written by Kica Matos, Center for Community Change Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice, and Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director for America’s Voice, an immigration reform group.
Teenaged brothers Cesar and Jonathan Barreras are typical American teens. They love pizza and playing their Xbox games. They love to work on computers and are doing well in school, especially math and science.
Cesar, 14, wants to be an engineer. Jonathan, 12, doesn’t know quite yet where his passion lies.
But unlike some other American children, Cesar and Jonathan don’t enjoy a carefree childhood. They can’t take trips with their mom and they haven’t spent time with their entire family all at once since they were preschoolers.
Instead, Cesar and Jonathan wake up in fear every day that the country where they were born and where they know their future will unfold will take away their mother — their sole provider — and deport her to her native Mexico.
Every day, this country, forged by immigrants and stamped as the land of opportunity, menaces its youngest citizens like Cesar and Jonathan.
We can rejoice about the U.S. Supreme Court decision to hear the case about President Obama’s executive actions that provide a chance at deferred action from deportation and temporary work permits for up to 5 million immigrants living here today with their U.S. citizen children.
We can debate the policy behind the President’s initiative, known as the Deferred Action for Parents of American and Lawful Permanent Residents (or DAPA).
We can lament the political divide that has cut so deep that Republican officials in 26 states filed an injunction to stop the president’s deferred action from implementation and keep those immigrants in limbo.
We can even argue over our moral obligation to allow these immigrants, already working, paying taxes (to the tune of $11.84 billion a year) and contributing to the American economy, to come out of the shadows and live full and open lives
This case is about all of that, no doubt.
But more directly, this case is about Cesar and Jonathan and the 6.3 million Americans who are the spouses and children of undocumented immigrants. The majority – 5.3 million – are the children of parents who came here without papers, fleeing war, violence and poverty the likes of which many of us in this country will never see.
These children, who grew up playing with Barbie and baseball and watching Sesame Street, don’t know what it means to be anything other than an American.
At its core, this case is about who we are and what it means to be an American. Are we a fair people who recognize the hard work of immigrants? Or are we the ones who work to keep people down?
This case is about charting the course for our future society.
Will we stick to our ideals as a nation founded by immigrants, even when those immigrants are racial and ethnic minorities? Even when the heat of a presidential campaign and its racist rhetoric is challenging our country like never before?
Today, more than a third of the U.S. population belongs to a racial or ethnic minority. By 2044, minorities are expected to be the majority. Is fear of the “other” enough to intimidate our fellow citizens as we turn against inclusive and fair policies?
What message are we sending to Cesar and Jonathan and the millions of others whose parents are eligible for DAPA about their place in this country they call home?
This is the second year in a row that the Supreme Court has taken up a case that has the potential to redefine the character of the American family. Their decision last year that paved the way for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states was a significant stride forward in our definition of family and freedom.
That decision upheld our core values as a country that believes in progress and equality for everyone.
Now the court has another opportunity to do the same by setting aside this political lawsuit, and clearing the way for some immigrants without papers to come forward and live without fear. The court should do this for Cesar and Jonathan and so many other Americans who have suffered through the painful experience of a parent’s deportation.
We are at a crossroads. We can take the path of demagoguery and hate, of marginalization and oppression. We can be one nation with two separate systems that creates a population of second-class citizens and harkens back to the days of Jim Crow, when the white majority terrorized and oppressed African Americans.
Or we can be a country that affirms our values of love and family, equality and opportunity.
These Americans and their families deserve the chance to live here in dignity. It is their right. This is their country, too.