My weekend in Columbia, South Carolina for the GOP primary was, to say the least, exhausting. I was pretty stoked about the weekend in the days before, to be honest. I was excited to be going to another primary because by now I’m practically an aficionado in phone banking and canvassing for candidates with whom I could not disagree more. And in addition to my favorite past-time was this great opportunity to have an intimate sitting with the chairmen of both the Democratic and Republican parties of South Carolina– Jaime Harrison and Matt Moore– where we, Wake the Vote students, could ask questions and actually receive a genuine response. Wrong, well, at least for me.
I didn’t have a question before the question-and-answer session; my plan was just to feel it out and listen to the other brilliant questions that were probably going to be asked by my also brilliant colleagues. But then as Matt Moore was introducing himself, I remembered a part of his bio that I had read earlier in the van– his advocacy of the American Dream. Matt Moore was expounding upon his belief that if someone works hard enough, he or she will attain success when a question popped in my head: How does this apply to undocumented immigrants, especially DACA recipients? And so brazenly, and a little unlike my usual character in these kinds of settings, I grabbed the mike, spoke up, and asked the question that had been burning on my tongue.
I didn’t explain what DACA was because I assumed that they knew, but upon my reiteration of the question because they initially evaded the question, I started to realize that maybe… they didn’t… know. DACA is an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is an immigration initiative implemented by the Obama administration in 2012 that provided temporary alleviation from the threat of deportation of undocumented childhood arrivals. The basic premise of DACA is that those who came to the United States illegally as children or illegally overstayed their visas from when they were children shouldn’t have to live under the daunting threat of deportation and possible separation from their family and friends because they were not of conscientious age when they either immigrated to the United States or overstayed. I didn’t think I had to explain what it was to these established men, I just assumed that they would know because immigration is quite a contentious issue for this year’s election and President Obama’s executive action regarding immigration, alongside with DACA, are going to the Supreme Court this summer. But I ended up explaining it in pursuit of a legitimate answer from both men for the second time and neither of the chairmen had solid answers. The most I remember from either of them was their “sympathies” for those who are in those situations and this frustrated me to no end.
Let’s say that the American Dream isn’t a socioeconomic ploy to bolster capitalism in America and pretend that it doesn’t further broaden the chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots” through the fallacious notion of “All one needs to do is work hard and he shall succeed” that does not even try to take into account the struggles facing the systematically disadvantaged. Let’s say that undocumented individuals firmly believe in the American Dream, but does it matter that they believe in it? Does it matter that some of these bright, intelligent, young individuals work assiduously not only in academics, but also in extra-curricular activities so as to prepare themselves for a good college education and furthermore a stable occupation? Does it matter that some of these individuals devote countless hours of their time to part-time jobs, and even full-time jobs, to help keep their families afloat? Does it matter that some of these individuals vie for the necessary social skills required to network by constantly placing themselves in spaces where they directly interact with the very people that want them to be deported? Does it really matter how much of their mental, emotional, and physical health they sacrifice to get even the tiniest step closer to attaining the American Dream? Because what is to come of all of their hard work and sacrifices? Nothing. Why? Because the most basic, fundamental right that these individuals need to accomplish such a feat is citizenship.
It baffles me how the lack of documentation can so easily curtail one’s chances and opportunities to chase dreams; how to some people a piece of documentation, or lack thereof, negates one’s humanity; how the people that believe this are the very same people that we entrust power with. When I think of this, I am at a loss for words, but it does not terrify me because I am very well aware that obstructions to justice for all will always exist. It upsets me to my core, but what gets me through the day is the hope that there will be leaders of our nation who will go out of their way to speak for those whose voices are nullified (ideally). What does terrify me is the fact that I personally had the chance to interact with persons who hold office, who hold political standings and wield far greater structural power than I, and yet… could not hold a legitimate, sustainable conversation about a matter that is dear to not only me, but to more than 11 million people in the United States because they. did. not. know. If you, presumably a citizen of the United States, are worried about the turnouts of this year’s election (which you rightfully should be), then I implore you to also think of the 11 million people whose lives are quite literally on the line and whose voices don’t legally matter because your voice does and could do wonders for them. I implore you to keep these 11 million lives on your mind because they could very well possibly be those who are sitting right next to you.