When will the United States understand how important immigrants are to our country? It is not easy to get a green card. It is largely up the government who wins and who loses when it comes to immigrating to the U.S.
This is part two of a two-part discussion about DACA.
Natalie Dowzicky spoke to Alex Nowrasteh, Jose Antonio Vargas, Gaby Pacheco, Oscar Hernandez, Kevin Ortiz, Nelcy Rocha, Ewaoluwa Ogundana, Christian Aguirre, & Bruna Distinto.
Special thanks to TheDream.Us scholarship program for working closely with us to find students to speak with.
Music by Cellophane Sam.
00:14 Speaker: I’m here today to announce that the program known as DACA, that was effectuated under the Obama Administration is being rescinded. To have a lawful system of immigration, that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here, it’s just that simple.
00:34 Gaby Pacheco: In order for people to realize how important immigrants are, maybe the DACA program does have to end.
00:40 Jose Antonio Vargas: We are all human beings, we just want to live a better life for us, our family, and for the community in which we serve.
00:49 President Donald Trump: These aren’t people, these are animals. They are being released by the tens of thousands, into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.
01:26 Natalie Dowzicky: This is “The Pursuit.” I’m Natalie Dowzicky.
01:36 Natalie Dowzicky: President Trump has never been shy about his feelings towards immigrants, but he’s not the first President to be particularly cruel towards them. This is Cato’s Director of Immigration Studies, Alex Nowrasteh.
01:48 Alex Nowrasteh: He has put in place a large number of additional rules, regulations, higher fees, more bureaucratic checks on getting a Green Card through the regulatory process. So he has been totally unsuccessful in getting Congress to pass actual laws to change it. So to give you an example, they’ve expanded something recently called the “Public Charge” rule, which says… And it’s been on the books since the 1880s. You can’t be admitted to the United States basically if you’re gonna go on welfare. How the government interprets that of course is up to them.
02:22 Alex Nowrasteh: So what the president and his administration did, was they basically said if a government employee who is doing the interview for a Green Card thinks that this person is gonna go on welfare, then that’s it, they don’t get a Green Card. There’s no formula, there’s no nothing like that, there’s a bunch of factors they can consider, but basically if they think you’re gonna be on welfare according to whatever new standards they’ve created that are as far as we can tell, not uniform and not knowable, and there’s no formula that we can take a look at, then they think that you’re not gonna be able to come to the United States anymore.
02:57 Natalie Dowzicky: Trump has not only made it more difficult for immigrants to come to the United States legally, he has also made significant changes to deport those who are already here. This is Gaby Pacheco from thedream.us.
03:09 Gaby Pacheco: So in September 2017, the Trump administration said, “We’re gonna end this program, those that have it can keep it, but nobody else who could have applied or didn’t apply before, are eligible to apply. And, those who can renew it, can renew it, and they have a month to be able to do this.” And so, it sent chills down the backs of all these young people who were depending, and are depending on this because they’re going to college, they’re working, they have families, they have children…
03:42 Gaby Pacheco: Being able to have DACA allows them to be able to get drivers’ licenses, and other things that are really key and important to be able to live your life. And, three different cases were brought up to do an injunction in order to keep the program going. And the Supreme Court did hear the DACA case in November, and we’re supposed to be hearing some sort of decision from them.
04:12 Natalie Dowzicky: In November 2019, the Supreme Court did not consider the legality of the DACA policy, but rather, they were questioning the way President Trump decided to end the program.
04:23 Alex Nowrasteh: Yeah. So all the legal arguments… And this is why… This is why I’m not a lawyer, right? Is that, they’re all super boring legal arguments about, one: Did President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security have the authority to create DACA in the first place? And two: Did President Trump cancel it lawfully? Did he conform with the “Administrative Procedures Act,” which is this act about promulgating regulations, did he… ” ‘Cause we’ve got the promulgator regulation to cancel DACA. So did he do that in the right way while he cancelled it?
05:00 Alex Nowrasteh: And, probably not. It doesn’t seem like it. So they’re basically taking their time in getting to this answer that says, “No.” So it’s not at all about DACA, it’s not at all about whether these people are deserving. It’s not at all about whether we want them to be Americans or whether they contribute, or whether they’re more likely to be criminals or students or whatever. It’s merely about whether the Department of Homeland Security and the Trump Administration dotted some I’s and crossed some bureaucratic T’s, and whether the Obama administration actually followed the law when they created this program.
05:33 Gaby Pacheco: And, it’s… I think anyone’s best guess, what’s gonna happen with the Supreme Court, my hope is that either they send the case to Trump and say, “You actually didn’t end this program properly,” which is what’s being argued here, or that they throw it back to the lower court for that to be decided there, and, what will happen is that it’ll give us more time.
05:55 Alex Nowrasteh: The Supreme Court has rubber-stamped everything that President Trump wants to do with immigration just about, so the chances that they’re not gonna go along with this, is very, very small. And I’d say the legal arguments, just taking a look at it, not from what I want to be true, but from what seems to be true is much more difficult in this case, than a lot of the other stuff that they’ve ruled in favor of the president.
06:20 Alex Nowrasteh: So what’s gonna happen to DACA recipients? I think the courts are gonna have a period of time where the program’s gonna unwind, though it’s not gonna be maybe canceled immediately, but over some months it’ll wind down, people will have their permits cancelled, and then they will be unlawful immigrants again.
06:43 Gaby Pacheco: I wonder what’s gonna happen when 40,000 teachers, who currently have DACA in their classroom, show up to the principal’s office and say, “I’m sorry, boss, I can’t come in to work anymore. My DACA has expired.” You have doctors, you have nurses, you have entrepreneurs, you have software engineers. I remember in 2006 when the community came out and did the one day without an immigrant, and people talk about that and say, “My pool man didn’t come to work,” or “All this construction workers stopped coming to work and we couldn’t move forward on the project and that held us back a lot.” The other part of me honestly feels like in order for this country and maybe, knock on wood, I’m wrong, but in order for people to realize how important immigrants are, maybe the DACA program does have to end.
07:43 Natalie Dowzicky: Most of America doesn’t understand how truly difficult it is to be an immigrant in our country.
07:49 Alex Nowrasteh: I don’t think they even have an understanding of what the current legal immigration system is. I suspect that most Americans, if you were to ask them to describe the legal immigration system, they describe something like Ellis Island, which hasn’t existed really in any form that’s recognizable for about a century. I think a lot of other people think that unlawful or illegal immigrants, no matter who they are, are basely all criminals by being here, and they don’t like that. I think you also just have a lot of people who are scared of their own shadows. I speak a lot around the country about immigration, and I was in Arizona, like five or six years ago, and I used to give this talk without sort of explaining what the current legal immigration system was, and this nice lady came up to me afterwards, and she said, “I understand what you’re talking about, how immigration is beneficial to the United States. So why don’t all the illegal immigrants just go down to the Post Office and register and get a Green Card?” And I realized, I think the majority of people in this country believe that it’s as easy to get a Green Card today as it was 150 years ago.
09:02 Kevin Ortiz: I think that the biggest thing I like for them to understand about any immigrant is that we are all human beings with aspirations.
09:11 Natalie Dowzicky: And this is Kevin Ortiz, a former dream.us scholar.
09:17 Kevin Ortiz: We all wish to be free people living in a free society. We all wish to have a home. We all wish our family to be healthy and to live prosperous. We all wish to be able to provide education to our kids. And that is no different than all the Republicans in the Senate and in the Congress and all the Democrats [09:36] ____ or any individual living in San Francisco or in Texas or in Beijing or in Bolivia. We are all human beings. We just want to live a better life for us, for our family and for the community in which we serve.
10:00 Natalie Dowzicky: Can you imagine living your life and to your increments, not knowing when a paycheck could be your last, and no longer being able to provide for your family? This is the reality every DACA recipient will face if the Supreme Court decides in favor of the Trump Administration.
10:16 Christian Aguirre: Every single challenge that we faced before relating to DACA, there is always the sort of feeling of like, okay, well, we’re gonna come together, we’re gonna organize and we’re gonna have a plan. And it always worked and you always had this feeing of hope even when Trump took office, but I’m not gonna lie and say that I don’t feel scared because for the first time, I do feel like, once again, things are in my control. Now that this whole conversation of DACA landed in the Supreme Court, now we understand that, well, this is it. We seriously cannot go any further than that. People that I’ve never met that don’t know me are gonna have to decide my life.
11:08 Natalie Dowzicky: Even though many dreamers are trying to remain hopeful, for some it’s hard to stay positive. This is Ewah.
11:15 Ewaoluwa Ogundana: The outcome of that case will change everything for me. And primarily I’m thinking of, I don’t know why. I’m thinking of my brother. The year that President Trump rescinded the program, that same month, like the month before my brother sent in his DACA application, and once we heard that the program had ended, a week later, we got the letter back that he wasn’t eligible. He couldn’t get the program. And I was so devastated because I knew that it was only with DACA that I’m literally able to be here right now. So I didn’t know what my brother’s future would look like.
11:55 Ewaoluwa Ogundana: So that case would really help my brother because right now I’m trying to help him apply to scholarships, and he doesn’t really qualify for much because he doesn’t even have DACA. He’s DACA eligible but schools are classifying him as an international student, and it really breaks my heart because he could have been where I am.
12:17 Gaby Pacheco: I knew that it was up to us as immigrants to go out there and show who we were and put our face out there. And so we did the walk.
12:27 Natalie Dowzicky: Gabby and some of her friends decided they would walk for four months on foot from Miami to Washington, DC fighting for their right to belong in the country they consider to be home.
12:39 Gaby Pacheco: It was beyond us trying to hold the President accountable. It was also us trying to put a face to the issue, talk to people and let our community know that as human beings, we have worth and we have power. One of the things that the trail, this walk really showed me is the beauty of our country and the people.
13:08 Gaby Pacheco: I think we were in South Carolina, and we had a group of young people come out to I guess try to bother us. And these young folks came out with a huge Confederate flag, and instead of us getting upset or mad, we said, “Join us, walk with us, and let’s talk.” And we started talking and asking them about what this flag meant for them. And they just were talking about the South and this whole idea that it’s a symbol for them of who they are and where they come from. And then we started sharing with them, “Well, this is also what the symbol means, and this is what it feels for others.” And having that conversation and going back and forth, without us telling them, “Put that away,” or whatever, they slowly folded the flag.
14:02 Gaby Pacheco: Put it away in this book bag they had been storing it and they continued to walk with us and ask questions. And at the end of the day, at the end of the time that they were with us, they gave us a hug and they thanked us for what we were doing.
14:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Some people just don’t understand that immigrants are real people, just like you and I. In fact, many of our ancestors came to this great country as immigrants with a dream.
14:25 Gaby Pacheco: And the Dream Act has been around, for now, two decades. Immigration Reform has come and gone through the both the Senate and the House, and nothing has happened. And I think at the end of the day, yes, as an immigrant, it’s my responsibility to show the true character, who we are as a community and as people, but it’s also up to US citizens and those that don’t necessarily understand, like you were saying before, I don’t know what it is to not have a driver’s license. And so this is kind of both a plea and an ask for the people who get and understand that we have to push. We have to show up for our fellow Americans to make the changes possible. And Congress, and the Senate, and Trump will listen to us. And I think that we can do our part, but we need others.
15:29 Natalie Dowzicky: As a country, it’s abundantly clear that our immigration system is disorganized and out of control with many failed bills and loose policy directives, it’s a difficult topic to tackle, but it can’t go on like this.
15:43 Jose Antonio Vargas: Like so we are not islands onto ourselves. Undocumented families, immigrant families in this country and that’s the other thing, you can’t really separate the undocumented people from the documented people. We live in the same family. So I’m Filipino, I live in the Bay Area where I grew up. I have 34 relatives here in the Bay Area. 34 relatives, I’m the only one who’s undocumented. Everybody else has papers. And the irony there is I’m probably the most civically engaged and I’m the one without papers. To me, there’s something really painful about that, because unless you’re Native American or an African American, you came here through immigration. So how can you ask people for borders and papers or why they’re here if you don’t even know how you got here?
16:33 Natalie Dowzicky: Jose is right, at one point or another, many of our ancestors immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. Many fled religious persecution and oppressive regimes. They too faced hardships upon arriving in the United States, but it’s crucial to understand that we have not made this system any easier. The government just continues to determine who wins and who loses. If DACA ends and no relief plan is put in place, it will leave many hung out to dry.
17:03 Alex Nowrasteh: They will be unable to lawfully work in the United States, they will become deportable just like every other unlawful immigrant, and it will be extremely difficult for them.
17:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Alex believes that DACA is great policy and that the only fault it truly has is that it doesn’t go far enough. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is not deciding whether or not DACA is good policy. And Congress doesn’t appear to be tackling our immigration system in a meaningful way any time soon.
17:37 Alex Nowrasteh: And I don’t wanna be too pessimistic about it, like I’m not an expert in Congress, but just looking at it from this vantage point, I don’t see what our next move is.
17:51 Kevin Ortiz: Great leaders are able to play within the system, through the system, outside the system. And that is what our immigrant undocumented folks are doing. They’re finding ways of working within the system, outside the system, through the system, because they understand that it takes outside the box thinking to truly live a life in a place that is not designed for us. Do we wanna stand on the right side of history as far as doing the right thing for individuals who’ve been in this country for many years, ‘cause if you think about it, anyone who has DACA today, they have been here at least 13 years, at least. 13 years is a long time. You make families, you have kids, you buy houses, you have cars, you have responsibilities that you just can’t just pick up and leave.
18:45 Natalie Dowzicky: No one should be expected to pack up and leave their life behind. Many of these immigrants consider themselves to be American. Some are probably more American than you and me. So maybe it’s time for us to consider what being American really means.
19:09 Natalie Dowzicky: Thanks for listening to The Pursuit. If you like The Pursuit, please rate and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. The Pursuit is a project of libertarianism.org and the Cato Institute. Music by Cellophane Sam. If you’d like to learn about libertarianism, visit us at libertarianism.org.