Press Club

Progressive Voice: Why Supporting DACA Benefits All of Us

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

By Emma Violand-Sánchez

On the morning of Thursday, August 24, I stood at Courthouse Plaza next to Lizette A., an extraordinary young woman, as she led a press conference to announce that she and 10 other Dreamers and their allies would spend the weekend marching from Charlottesville to Richmond to advocate for the immigrant community.

Lizette said that she and her fellow Dreamers could not continue to sit and wait as politicians “use our futures as a bargaining chip while having our families and communities torn apart.”

Lizette was referring to the agonizing uncertainty about whether the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs will be ended by the current administration and Congress. These programs, instituted under the Obama Administration, have allowed nearly 800,000 students and young working adults to contribute to the country that is their home.

Lizette is an inspiration. I have known her since she graduated valedictorian from Wakefield High School. She was only two months old when her parents brought her to the United States. Lizette qualified for DACA, earned a scholarship to attend college and now works at an educational non-profit.

But instead of rejoicing in their success, Lizette and other DACA recipients live under stress because Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other attorneys general have given President Trump an ultimatum that if he does not phase out DACA by September 5, they will sue the federal government.

How can it be that an exceptional professional who has lived virtually her entire life in Arlington and considers herself an American – it is the only country she has known – faces such a threat to her future and that of about 800,000 DACA recipients? Without DACA, these young people will lose work permits, their defense against deportation, and their chance to go to college at in-state tuition rates.

More than 600 college and university presidents wrote to the President to uphold and continue DACA. It is not just a moral imperative but an economic benefit to the nation: The Center for American Progress has calculated that the country would gain $433.4 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if DACA is continued.

What is to be gained by pulling the rug out from under the feet of these hard-working young people? What is the source of this bigotry? Sadly, recent events in Charlottesville reminded us all of how strong are the forces of hate and division in this country.

And shortly after Charlottesville, the President of the United States pardoned a sheriff who was convicted of using racial profiling to target immigrants. Think about that: Our president pardoned a man who was found guilty of discrimination and contempt of court.

Lizette is one of the founding Board members of the Dream Project. The Project’s mission is to empower students whose immigration status creates barriers to education — by working with them to access and succeed in college through scholarships, mentoring, family engagement, and advocacy.

The Dream Project has awarded 77 scholarships for the 2017-18 academic year. This past year, we had an exceptional retention rate in college of over 83 percent and 24 of our Dream Scholars have graduated from college. They currently are working as engineers, medical professionals, researchers, and journalists.

In times of such darkness as we face today, it is tempting to give in. In times of such hatred as we face today, it is easy to hate back. But as Martin Luther King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This is why we must continue to shine light on our work so that more people can see what our Dreamers are striving for, what they aspire to achieve, how they hope to contribute to this great nation, and what inspiring young men and women they are.

And we must resist the desire to hate back at those who hate us: The rightness of our cause will be proven by our deeds, by our values, by our character. Our Dreamers don’t have time to hate – they are too busy building productive and creative lives, caring for their families, and contributing to their communities and their country.

Dr. Emma Violand Sánchez is the founder and President of the Dream Project Board. She is a former chair of the Arlington School Board member and retired administrator. In January 2017 she was selected as a Washingtonian of the Year and in June 17 she received the Woman of Vision Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women.

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