New Canadian Media
Wednesday, 27 September 2017 21:52

McGill Students Root for U.S. Dreamers

By: Caitlin Atkinson in Montreal

On Sept. 5, in one of his cruellest acts yet, US President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was an immigration policy enacted by the Obama administration that allowed individuals who moved to America illegally as minors to remain in the country, given a certain set of conditions that ensure they make productive contributions to society. If Congress doesn’t find a way to legalize DACA and develop a plan in which DACA participants—affectionately known as “Dreamers”—can apply for US citizenship, upwards of 800,000 individuals face possible deportation to countries they barely know.

While Trump’s actions have led to an emotional outcry both within the US and internationally, at the same time, there exists a rising unwillingness to accept immigrants among Canadians. Under the presumption that an influx of Dreamers will attempt to migrate to Canada, some believe that the Canadian government should have the absolute power to admit only those with high academic or economic abilities. However, Canada’s approach to accepting thousands of Dreamers must reflect the diversity that Canada claims to embrace, and go beyond allowing only those the government subjectively deems as ‘the best.’ As Trump tries to rip these young people from all that they have ever known, Canada—and particularly its universities—has the humanitarian duty to provide a safe place and a legal channel for Dreamers to become citizens.

Though Canadians who oppose the northward immigration of Dreamers argue that it will overwhelm the country’s immigration system, it is incredibly unlikely that all 800,000 individuals in the DACA program will relocate to Canada. In a quote in a Vice article, Ontario Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar suggested that Canada should look to welcome 10,000 to 30,000 Dreamers. Canada, she argues, must capitalize on the opportunity to welcome a new wave of skilled workers, who will help to boost the economy.

Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.

McGill students can surely empathize with the plights of Dreamers, especially those who are in the process of completing university degrees. Dreamers have spent the majority of their lives in the United States, and many have come to hope for the same type of social and financial success that McGill students aspire to. Now, they face the possibility of deportation, compromising their futures. Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.

Huron University College in London, Ont. has already set an important example, offering $60,000 in scholarships to students affected by the overturn of the DACA program. At McGill, compensating for an increased number of transfer applicants when planning classes would allow for more space in programs to accommodate Dreamers. To further ease the transition, McGill students can start groups that lobby the administration to take action and recognize the unique circumstances of Dreamers and work to welcome them into the McGill community. By removing barriers to Dreamers’ enrollment in Canadian universities, Canadians can help to reverse the damage being done by the Trump Administration, and help to give these young adults a third chance at a future. Those who have already dedicated their time and energy into their schooling have a right to finish their education.

Morally, Canadians need to recognize the inherent abuse of power in the argument that the Canadian government should be highly selective in choosing which Dreamers have sufficient test scores or employability, and thus the right to immigrate to Canada. All should have the opportunity to apply and be fairly considered, without the constant paranoia of fitting narrow acceptance criteria. While, opposers of immigration harshly critique prioritizing citizens of other countries over born Canadians, its supporters argue that it is necessary for growth. What critics must recognize is the need for empathy, and to recognize the injustice that will occur if Canada does not provide social and economic opportunities.

Given that none of these individuals have criminal records, nor histories of violence, they deserve the opportunity to continue on their quest to achieve their goals, just like those fortunate enough to be born in Canada. Canada and its universities have the capacity to welcome Dreamers, and as a country that prides itself on compassion and diversity, we have a responsibility to protect the dream that Donald Trump is so desperately trying to crush.


Republished under arrangement with the McGill Tribune.

Published in Commentary

Commentary by: Alberto Ledesma in Berkeley, California

I first became a “dreamer” more than forty years ago. That is when my parents brought my sisters and me to the heart of East Oakland for what we thought was a summer vacation. Since then, I have not returned to Huisquilco, Mexico, the town where I was born. 

We were brought as undocumented children by our undocumented parents because they wanted a better life for us and they understood that a life in the shadows in the United States was so much better than a life of economic uncertainty in Mexico. “Keep your head down, work hard, don’t complain!” These were the precepts that guided our lives as we incorporated ourselves into our new American society. Eventually, after a decade of living in the shadows, amnesty came and thus we transitioned out of our precarious legal status.

Forty years later, all four of us children have graduated from UC Berkeley, three with advanced degrees, including two with PhDs from Berkeley and UCLA. But ours is not a story that means to boast about our achievements. Rather, ours is a story that reveals to what degree the hegemony of anti-immigrant terror consumed our lives and motivated us to show that we were more than our legal status. We went from being undocumented immigrant kids to being hyperdocumented students (award after award, degree after degree), as Professor Aurora Chang likes to call it, all in an effort to escape the “illegal alien” taboo. 

After having been on the faculty at various universities across California, I am now an administrator at Berkeley. It is in this capacity that I often interact with current DACA students. Almost all of them, save a few eccentric nonconformists, remind me of the student I once was: quiet, perpetually smiling, with a slight melancholic torpor pulling at the edges of our eyelids. 

All of them will tell you that they foresaw Trump’s viciousness because that is what being undocumented does—it gives you prescience about oncoming doom. Still, all of them would trade their prophetic talents for the promise, however tenuous, that things might get better.

A few days ago, when I heard Jeff Sessions read his carefully worded statement on behalf of the President, I was again reminded that in this country civil rights are not gained without consistent and active struggle. Civil rights for undocumented immigrants is precisely the kind of possibility that the repeated use of the words “illegal alien” are meant to foreclose. And those who are guided by malignant nationalism know that. There, at the podium, Sessions stood like a reincarnated George Wallace blocking the entrance to the University of Alabama. There, as the camera narrowed its focus on his legalistic monologue, he asserted that America could only be made great again if it segregated itself from so many unlawful overachievers. How dare they aspire towards a better life? He seemed to ask. 

And, of course, not all undocumented students, DACA or otherwise, are overachievers. Too many of them are weighted down by the pressures of just making it in Trump’s America that doing okay is already the result of a herculean effort. 

A few days ago, I was reminded that there is a difference between justice and the so-called “rule of law,” especially when that law is selectively applied. What kind of world gives a convicted felon like Joseph Arpaio amnesty and summarily condemns 800,000 young people to a life in the shadows? Conservative recalcitrants like Steve King take it a step further and argue that undocumented immigrant kids and their families should live in the shadows forever. That’s where they belong. 

What the Civil Rights Movement and the 1986 amnesty made clear to me was that sometimes America is capable of showing compassion. Still, it is not hard to surmise that there were some back in the 1980s who predicted the downfall of this nation because more than three million undocumented people, including my family and me, were pardoned from our immigration sin. Most likely, among those people were the Arpaios, Sessions, Kings, and Trumps of the world. Indeed, it is that undoing, that desire to erase what those new Americans brought to the United States, that has seemingly motivated the Make America Great Again campaign. 

I can honestly say that I am still a dreamer today though I have been a citizen since 1992. What I dream of today, however, is a United States where we can have a just discernment of policy instead of the selective application of draconian laws.


Alberto Ledesma was an undocumented immigrant student in the 1980s. He is now the Diversity Director for the Arts & Humanities at UC Berkeley. This piece was republished under arrangement with New America Media

Published in Commentary

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