So you’ve been watching the news and, every day, you see the topic of immigration being debated on the airwaves and in the hallowed halls of Congress. Maybe you’ve had a conversation about it with your friends or family. Maybe your friend, your girlfriend, your boyfriend’s uncle, or your neighbor is one of these people who have come to be known as “Dreamers,” young people who were brought into the United States when they were very young and are currently without legal status—because they were brought in illegally or they overstayed their lawful welcome in this country.
It breaks your heart. How could someone who’s lived their entire life in the United States not have legal status? How is it that he or she still faces the threat of deportation to a country he or she left decades ago? You’re lucky enough to be a citizen of the United States – you were born here or were able to earn your citizenship one way of the other. You’re wondering how you even approach the issue. You don’t like the fact that President Trump essentially wants to deport these young people if he doesn’t get his precious border wall. How do you talk to your friend, your girlfriend, your boyfriend’s uncle, or your neighbor? What can you do to help? Well, you’re in luck! I’m a dreamer and here’s my comprehensive guide to being a good “Ally” to “Dreamers.”
But, first—“Ally”: (noun | al-ly) One that is associated with another as a helper: a person or group that provides assistance and support : e.g. “She has proven to be a valuable ally in the fight for better working conditions.” (Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Keep that in mind as you continue reading. You are a helper. You provide assistance and support. If you’re not directly impacted, let those who are directly impacted take the lead. Let them dictate what it means to be a good ally. Let them craft the strategy for their movement and fall in line. If you don’t go to sleep every night wondering if you’ll be wrestled out of your home by ICE agents, let those that do set the agenda.
Photo by Raymond Partolan
#1: Don’t say “I promise, everything’s going to be alright.”
Don’t promise things you can’t deliver. Unless you suddenly became the President of the United States, the Senate Majority Leader, or the Speaker of the House overnight, just don’t. If you’ve never had to put together a “Family Preparedness Plan”, during which you have a tough conversation with your family about who’s going to take care of your 11 year old U.S. Citizen brother if the rest of his family gets deported, just don’t.
#2: Don’t say “Why don’t you just apply for citizenship?”
As dreamers, we get this question all the time. “Why don’t you just apply for citizenship? If you do this the right way, wouldn’t everything work itself out?”
Asking us this question is an insult to our intelligence and our work ethic. If a pathway to citizenship existed for us, don’t you think we would’ve taken it by now? Instead, get educated on our broken legal immigration system. To start, check out this cool video that explains how difficult it is to actually immigrate to the United States.
It’s not as easy as just taking a civics test and knowing how to speak English. But sadly, that’s what a lot of people believe. In reality, there are only four ways to legally immigrate to the United States: 1) Through your immediate family members (read: not cousins, uncles, grandparents—but spouses, parents, children (over the age of 21), and siblings); 2) Through an employer (…but you have to prove that you’re not displacing a U.S. worker by immigrating); 3) Proving that you have a well-founded fear of persecution in your home country (As a refugee or an asylee—this is often very subjective and takes years to process); 4) The Diversity Visa lottery (if you come from a country that has not historically sent very many immigrants to the U.S.).
Then, after you legally immigrate (getting your permanent residency, also known as a Green Card), in most cases, you have to wait five years to even apply for citizenship.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s not easy. Don’t make the mistake of making it seem like it is.
#3: Don’t criticize any strategy crafted by dreamers to better their own lives
You might be a Harvard Kennedy School of Government-educated policy wonk, but until you’ve been in the shoes of a dreamer who quite literally worries for his life and livelihood everyday, you have no right to criticize any tactic or strategy employed to bring about the change he wants to see.
Got a problem with the fact that some of us block streets, take over Senate offices, and call out your precious Democratic lawmakers? Think calling Members of Congress doesn’t actually do anything? That’s too bad, because that’s what we’re going to do to keep the pressure on our decision makers until they understand the urgency under which we’re fighting. We are fighting tooth and nail for the ability to stay in the only place we’ve called home and we will use any and all tactics that we think will bring us closer to that goal.
#4: Listen more than talk. Respect their story and their perspective.
Our entire lives, people have dictated who we can be, what we can do, who we can be with, and how to live our lives. The DREAM Act, a bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for dreamers, was introduced back in 2001. Since that moment, several iterations of it have been introduced and have failed in Congress. We dreamers have hoped and hoped and hoped until that hope gradually turned into cynicism. In 2010, the bill failed by a mere 6 votes in the U.S. Senate. Six democratic lawmakers effectively killed the bill. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the DREAM Act, but the House refused to bring it to the floor for a vote. I remember exactly where I was when these votes were being tallied and I remember the tears flowing down my face when these votes failed and the anger that I felt.
Imagine watching your life being debated on national television. Imagine listening to all these old white men talk about you and whether you deserve to stay in this country and feeling voiceless—like they can talk about you, but won’t invite you to the negotiating table to ask about what you need.
Listen to us. Many of us have been silent for years. But will be silent no longer. We will share our stories of struggle, desperation, and hopelessness until our decision makers begin to understand what we’ve been through. We deserve dignity and respect. Here is my story.
#5: Don’t pity us.
We’re not helpless puppies running around the kitchen looking for scraps of food while our owners are gone. We are powerful, united, and a force to be reckoned with. We don’t need your pity. We don’t need you to tell us how terrible our situation is. We need your action. Save the breath you would’ve used to tell us “I’m so sorry you’re going through this,” and pick up the phone, call your Member of Congress, and give them a piece of your mind. Trust me—they’re listening. Next time, there’s a rally in your area around immigrant rights or protections for dreamers, show up. Don’t sit at home on your couch and wish you could be doing more. Just do more.
Photo by Raymond Partolan
#6: Don’t put us in the position of deciding whether we’d accept a solution that would protect us, but harm our families.
We are who we are because of our families. My parents brought me here to the United States from the Philippines when I was one. My father gave up his dreams of going to medical school so that he could provide the best life that he could for his wife and children. When he and my mother left the Philippines, they said goodbye to their family members, their friends, and their communities—possibly never to see them again. Three of my four grandparents have passed away. My parents quite literally never saw them again. My mother lost her eldest sister, someone she grew up with and looked up to. She never saw her again. My parents sacrificed so much so that my brothers and I could have a better life here. They are the original dreamers. Both of my parents are college-educated, brilliant, and graduated at the top of their classes. They have dedication and work ethic like none other. But now, because of our immigration system, my parents are relegated to jobs for which they are way overqualified. My father, a former physical therapist who helped his patients regain their mobility, now works in a warehouse moving boxes six days a week for very little pay. My mother, a trained paralegal, works in food service.
Their hands are worn from hard work and very little breaks. Right now, there are proposals in Congress that would protect people like me, but put people like my parents at greater risk of deportation. Don’t make us choose. It’s all of us, or none of us.
#7: Respect our time. Respect our struggle. Don’t speak for us.
This mainly goes out to the media and anyone who invites us to share our story before an audience. We are not available at a moment’s notice. We are not your token dreamers who are sure to make your event or your news story more interesting. If we agree to an interview with you or if we agree to speak at your event, we are making the conscious decision to do so because we think it provides some benefit to our movement. By educating those around us about our struggles, our broken system, and ways to get involved, we are bringing ourselves one step closer to our goal of passing a permanent legislative solution that would allow us to stay here legally. Keep that in mind when you invite us or ask us for an interview.
That said, for events, honorariums are appreciated. For interviews, come to us. Don’t make us drive across town to come to you. We’re trying to make it in this world just like everyone else. We’ve got jobs to work, classes to attend, and families to take care of. We will not drop everything to cater to your needs. Don’t mistakenly believe you are somehow our savior for giving us the opportunity to share our stories. We don’t need you to speak for us. We don’t need you to tell our stories. Pass the mic.
#8: Don’t ask us “Well, why don’t you just get married?”
No. Just no. One, it’s illegal to enter into a marriage for the sole purpose of procuring immigration benefits. Two, it’s not as simple as you think it is to get your permanent residency after you get married (e.g. If you don’t have a legal entry into the United States or you never had an immigrant petition filed for you before April 30, 2001, you will probably have to go through an expensive and complicated process that involves you having to leave the U.S. before you’re allowed to return). Three, and most importantly, no one should have to get married if they don’t want to. This is part of having self-determination—the ability to control your own life. I will get married if or when I meet the right person—the person with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. I will not get married because the government tells me I have to if I want to stay here.
#9: Recognize that dreamers come from all different places, in different shapes and sizes, and different colors.
You may have gone all this time thinking that dreamers and other undocumented immigrants are all Mexican or from some other country in Latin America, but please recognize that we come from all over the world. I, for one, am Filipino. I also have dreamer friends from Nigeria, Poland, Canada, and every place in between. Don’t assume a Latino you meet is undocumented and the Asian American you meet at the same time is not.
#10: Get involved in advocacy efforts to #ProtectDreamers
So you’ve made this far. You’ve spent the last ten minutes or so reading this lengthy piece. Now, you’re wondering how you can get involved. Great! Well, let me tell you!
- Call your Member of Congress and tell them that you need Congress to protect dreamers before hundreds of thousands are forced out of their jobs, have to quit school, and are deported to countries they can’t even remember. Visit this link. It makes it super easy: https://www.fwd.us/action/senate2021/
- After you get done calling YOUR Member of Congress, call other Members of Congress who could hear from you too. Follow organizations on social media that are actively doing the work and sign up for Action Alerts or Action Updates. Some examples are Asian Americans Advancing Justice, NAKASEC, FWD.us, and many, many others.
- Be on the lookout for rallies and other actions happening in your area and show up in numbers when they do. Bring your friends. Bring your family. Bring everyone.
- Get arrested for us. But first, read Tip #3 above again. Civil disobedience is a tried and tested tactic that dates back centuries. Lex iniusta non est lex. An unjust law is no law at all. As a U.S. Citizen, you have the privilege of being able to put your body and liberty on the line for people whose bodies and liberties are on the line every single day. Next time there is an action that involves civil disobedience, sign up.
- Donate to organizations that are spending countless hours researching policy proposals, lobbying Members of Congress, organizing the community, and providing legal support for dreamers. My personal favorite organization to support (since I firmly believe in their mission) is Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta. You can make a tax-deductible contribution here.
- Host an event on your campus calling attention to this issue and invite dreamers to share their stories. Be sure to involve them in every stage of the planning process.
- Have tough conversations with your friends and family about this issue and why it’s important to you. We have to change hearts and minds, one person at a time.
We are at a critical juncture in our movement. The clock is ticking. When the clock strikes midnight on March 6, 2018, over 1,400 DACA Recipients will lose their protections every single day from that point forward. Even today, over 122 DACA Recipients are losing their status every day. If you haven’t been involved up to this point, there is no better time than now. As always, shoot me an email at email@example.com and let me know what you think! Let’s stay in touch- follow me on Facebook, find me on Instagram (@RaymondPart) and Twitter (@RaymondPart).