On day one of his administration, President-elect Trump has vowed to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), a 2012 executive action by President Obama that authorizes short-term work permits and shields undocumented youths from deportation. A recent report at Reuters suggests Trump’s transition team is now moving forward with this plan.
Voiding DACA will have an immediate impact on individuals and their families. Children could be pulled out of school, higher education will no longer be within reach for many young adults, and “sanctuary spaces,” offering both legal and moral protection, may become a means of last defense.
As an educator, I can’t help but wonder how many generations will be affected by this in the future. I’ve personally experienced how the effects of our immigration and citizenship laws can affect families for generations.
My grandmother was stripped of her U.S. citizenship; she never went to school. My father grew up in a home with undocumented parents; he dropped out of high school. Years later, I am still playing catch up; I’m a third-generation Mexican American who is finally a first-generation college graduate.
My Nana’s undocumented life – despite having been born in the US – scarred my father and now colors my own experience half a century later.
Like my Nana, many of our nation’s undocumented are “Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” If President-elect Trump goes forward with his plan to deport people, chances are the effects of this decision will harm families for generations.
My Nana’s Undocumented Life
My Nana’s life story is not that uncommon. She was born in Southern California, got married, and together with her husband worked and raised a family.
But taking a closer look, her story becomes a cautionary tale. My Nana was born in a work camp for Mexican railroad workers. Because of a discriminatory law, she lost her U.S. citizenship when she married a Mexican migrant. For most of her life, she was undocumented – a woman without a country – all while living and working in her native state, California.
She was one of the many women who were considered “disposable citizens” under the 1907 Expatriation Act. Per the statute, which deprived women of independent citizenship, “Any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband.”
For her, our nation’s immigration and citizenship laws must have seemed like a baffling maze of xenophobia and gender discrimination.
My Nana would see the US enter WWI, WWII, and the Korean War before calling the INS to ask about her lost citizenship. In a letter dated December 28, 1951, an official wrote back: “It would appear that you again became a citizen of the United States on July 2, 1940, in accordance with legislation effective that date (54 Stat. 715m 8 U.S.C. 9(a)).”
By that time, she had lived through several waves of anti-Mexican hysteria, including the infamous deportation raids in Los Angeles County during the Herbert Hoover Administration. In her home, like in other Mexican American homes, Hoover was despised for taking out Depression-era angst on Mexicans.
Is it any wonder my Nana kept the letter from the INS in her purse? It was her proof of U.S. citizenship.
Years ago, after my Nana passed away, my father came to visit me while I was a visiting scholar at Stanford University. He asked me about the campus’ most visible architectural landmark, the Hoover Tower. Most parents would feel proud if their child were at a prestigious university. Yet, as I explained that the tower was named after Stanford alumnus Herbert Hoover, my father became upset and said: “That #$@&%*! tried to deport my mother!”
I had always known about my Nana’s story. But it wasn’t until that moment that I realized the depth of pain caused by these policies.
Striking is the amount of time she was forced to live without U.S. citizenship: she was legally expelled for 26 years plus another 11 years while she didn’t know her status. Had her husband been racially eligible for citizenship the Cable Act might have cut her expulsion to eight years.
Getting an education was impossible for my Nana. When my father dropped out of high school, it must have seemed natural, considering neither of his parents had ever gone to school. For better or worse, this history has profoundly shaped me as a scholar and a professional.
Before the election, undocumented students relied on a complex web of federal, state, and local policies to enroll at universities. Immediately after the election, campuses across the nation vowed to support undocumented students. The bottom line is, like Hoover, President-elect Trump has a narrow view of who counts as “Americans.”
In December, I became an ally for AB540 and undocumented students at UC Irvine. Seeing today’s post-election climate through my family’s history, it was important for me to learn how to support our students.
To be sure, some will say: “Get over it.” But this is my family’s experience. These policies have left a mark. They’ve had an adverse ripple effect over time.
Likewise, this isn’t to suggest that Trump’s proposed policy is unique. As relatives in both my mother’s and father’s families can attest, the threat of deportation has been a mainstay for many generations of Mexican Americans, whether one has labored as a bracero during the 1950s, as my uncle did, or one has had to navigate SB 1070, the most recent in a long line of anti-Mexican laws in Arizona, as my mother’s cousins do today.
Recently, the President-elect has said he will “work something out” for Dreamers. But his pick for attorney general suggests otherwise. In the Senate hearings on Jeff Sessions’ nomination, the nominee has made it clear that the Trump administration “plans to throw DACA immigrants to the wolves.”
The effects of our immigration and citizenship laws go on for generations. I hope, as the inauguration draws near, that President-elect Trump will take a moment and consider this.