Each generation of immigrants that arrives in the United States faces a different set of challenges. The challenges for the current generation are about inclusion and belonging. As I write these words, President Donald Trump has just announced that his administration will rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
DACA offered the opportunity for people brought here without documentation in their infancy to access work permits for a renewable period of two years. Contrary to what many people think, daca is neither an amnesty nor a path to fixing anyone’s immigration status. It is a temporary relief for a certain group of undocumented immigrants who have known no other country than the United States.
The president’s announcement regarding DACA came just a couple of weeks before Welcoming Week. This series of events — organized by different local groups and sponsored by Welcoming America — raises awareness of the benefits of welcoming everyone. In Tacoma — where I lead the Rainbow Center, a resource center for the LGBTQ community in Pierce County — we are organizing a panel with LGBTQ immigrants and refugees (Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Rainbow Center, 2215 Pacific Ave., Tacoma) This panel will highlight the reality of immigrants and refugees who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer.
According to some estimates, around 75,000 LGBTQ individuals qualify for DACA. An estimated 36,000 LGBTQ applicants were approved by 2016. The prospect of going back to countries they have no recollection of, with languages these immigrants have not always mastered and, in many cases, with social and cultural rules that are hostile to LGBTQ people, is detrimental to them. It is important that everyone understands that the president’s actions have life and death consequences for Americans who have known no other country than the United States.
Often people believe that these administrative decisions made at the federal level do not affect them. However, as we will find out soon enough, daca recipients are all around us in Washington state — in rural and urban areas.
As a Puerto Rican, I was born a U.S. citizen and didn’t have to worry about going through the process of immigration. Nevertheless, about five years ago I married my husband who is from México. He came to the United States as a young 19-year-old, right out of school and not having been able to live openly as a gay man in his home country.
When President Barack Obama announced DACA, we found out that he did not qualify, as he was too old upon his arrival. His brother, who was 17 when he entered the United States, didn’t qualify either. Both of them had been working hard, paying taxes and being productive members of society since their arrival.
The other night while talking over dinner about the impending decision from the president, my husband reminded me that two of our friends are recipients of daca. Both have been in the United States long enough to feel more American than Guatemalan or Mexican, as their passports indicate. Both of them are hard workers, entrepreneurial and productive members of their respective communities.
Throughout my travels and my interaction with people from other countries, I have learned about the challenges that LGBTQ people face around the world: Poor access to heal thcare, workplace discrimination, homelessness, physical violence and so many other difficulties are routine for LGBTQ individuals. Although it is true that some of these things exist in the United States, there’s also the sense of protection before the law and of freedom that is not always present in other locations. Welcoming Week helps keep that spirit alive. The 800,000-plus recipients of daca who make this country great through their hard work and the 75,000 LGBTQ individuals among them who might face danger if sent to countries they do not know deserve all of our support and welcoming arms.
J. Manny Santiago is the executive director of the Rainbow Center, an organization in Tacoma that expands resources for LGBTQ people and allies through education, advocacy and celebration.
Wait, there's more. Check out articles in the full September 13 issue.