Children, Fear, and Dreams


August 16, 2017

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Nearly 800,000 people who came to the U.S. as children have gained temporary legal status through DACA, if they met certain criteria, such as having lived continuously in the U.S. since June of 2007. DACA has allowed young people to go to school, get a driver’s license, and work legally. These “dreamers” have lived most of their lives in the U.S. and are part of our communities. But now 10 state attorneys-general are threatening to sue the federal government to end the program, and the Trump administration has not been clear on its plans for DACA. Dreamers from around the country and the Washington, DC region, as well as other advocates gathered near the White House yesterday to assert that they are “here to stay.”
Some brought children to the rally. My heart opened wide to see these little guys, and the mom’s affectionate ruffling of the younger one’s hair. Children should not have to fear losing their parents to deportation. Young parents in the DACA program are giving back to their communities, and want the chance to do more. Their children, usually American citizens, need their parents’ love and protection.

Starting yesterday, faith and immigrant leaders are embarking on a 22 day vigil near the White House in defense of DACA and other immigrants with “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS, issued when people have fled from dangerous conditions in their home country).  We’ll report more on the vigil in the coming days.

We want our children to learn to be confident of the wide opportunities their futures will provide. One of the dreamers who spoke yesterday, Greisa Martinez, came to the U.S. with her parents when she was 7, crossing the Rio Grande. For years during her childhood, she was always afraid. She joined with other dreamers to fight back, finally “undocumented and unafraid.” And victorious! But in these times, victories have to be defended vigilantly.

My granddaughter, nearly 8 years old, saw the Nazi symbols, the hateful gestures and violence as the Charlottesville coverage splashed on the screen, and she learned a new fear.

It’s far easier to provide reassurance to my granddaughter, who is secure in her family. (Thanks to our daughter, Lauren Weinstein, cartoonist for the Village Voice and other publications, for the drawing of their actual conversation.) But it is a sad milestone, this fear-learning.

Our children learn a lot every day, and what they learn affects not just their future, but ours. Greisa learned to overcome fear by taking action – that is the very definition of courage. Her courage, the courage of all the dreamers, and of those who protest against racism and bigotry, forces life into our imperiled democracy.

And it is seriously imperiled. Millions don’t vote, but it’s worse than that. Public opinion research through the World Values Surveys shows that younger people (age 16-34) are more and more likely to distrust democratic institutions, in fact to distrust democracy itself. Of people born in the 1980’s in the U.S. (the “millennials”), only about 30 percent agreed it was “essential” to live in a country that is governed democratically. Among us baby-boomers, about 60 percent said democracy was essential. And even more alarming, among the millennials, only 19 percent “do not believe that it is legitimate in a democracy for the military to take over when the government is incompetent or failing to do its job.” Let me repeat that: only nineteen percent. Among those born before World War II and the baby-boomers, 43 percent don’t believe a military takeover is legitimate. That’s not too terrific either. But our young – well, we’ve got serious trouble.

Some of them are marching for white supremacy (of course, they are not all young). Some of them are disengaged and resentful. But others are fighting for opportunity and against racism. Some young and some of us older types have demanded “Hands off our health care” of their elected officials. It is not easy, and there will be reverses, but it is essential. We badly need today’s children to learn that they can make democracy work. We have to show them it can.

Affordable Care Act
immigration reform