DREAMers Driving Freedom

A federal judge has let stand, for now, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to bar undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as DREAMers, from securing state drivers licenses, even as Congress negotiates proposed legislation that most expect will ultimately allow these young people to remain in the country and earn a path to U.S. citizenship.

While the ACLU lawsuit against Brewer continues, I think it’s important to take the long view on the governor’s senseless and mean-spirited decision to impose the ban in the first place.

Consider, for instance, that by the time a child born today in Arizona to a Latino immigrant becomes an adult, he or she will be among the more than 50 percent of the people in the state of Latino origin. And immigrants arriving here that same year (around 2030-2035) will account for a larger percentage of our nation’s population growth than births.

With that in mind, I take at least small comfort in knowing that Gov. Jan Brewer’s open hostility toward immigrants, however unforgivable and destructive, is the desperate, anachronistic and futile gesture of an ultimately doomed ideology which clings to the belief that the preservation of “white privilege” is somehow synonymous with the “founding fathers” mythologized vision of democracy.

To put it bluntly, some people just don’t believe “brown” people are good enough to be Americans. This, to echo George W. Bush, is at best its own form of “soft bigotry”—soft, but no less shameful.

The irony is that as I watch DREAMers challenge what must be an often intimidating and sometimes outright terrifying gauntlet of obstacles, I see in them a quintessentially democratic spirit inspired in great measure by the ideals of democracy that most Americans abide by today.

In other words, DREAMers, particularly those who have risked everything, including their physical freedom, and stepped out of the shadows are generally the sort of people who believe they are fully American. In my view, by struggling to remain in the country they love, DREAMers are embracing and advancing our Constitutionally protected principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Unlike the DREAMers, I was born in the United States. But it’s fair to ask: “When did I really become American?” Did it happen at the instant of my birth? Did it happen the day as a school child when I first recited the Pledge of Allegiance? Or was it the moment when I gazed awestruck into the foggy screen of black-and-white TV set as Neil Armstrong took “…one giant step” onto the surface of the moon?

Becoming American, truly American, is less about serendipity and more a product of intellectual maturation. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution granted me citizenship at the moment of my birth on U.S. soil (though my mother also was a citizen), but I did not earn and probably did not deserve that designation until I finally came to understand that liberty cannot exist without human dignity.

While we should never forget that “American liberty” and “slavery” were once regarded as compatible concepts, our understanding of liberty today is, at its core, part of the genius of our modern-day interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Despite their relative youth (or perhaps because that unfettered idealism), DREAMers get this like few other people I know.

So, to deprive DREAMers of their desire to remain in the United States is to deny them their de facto right to citizenship, human dignity, and, yes, liberty.

And deporting them is just plain un-American.

- James E. Garcia is a journalist, playwright and communications and media consultant in Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at azcvoices.com/politics and americanlatino.net.

What MLK Jr. might have had to say about the banning of the Mexican American studies program in Arizona

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Join free-thinking Americans on Feb. 29 in a national read-in in support of the children of the Tucson Unified School District and against the outlawing of ideas.

See AZethnicstudies.com for more information.

What Arizonans Should Know

This was submitted at the request of the Arizona Republic in response to the question: What Arizonans should know about their state.

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Arizona has always been a corridor and an oasis. For thousands of years, the proud, diverse and sometimes desperate cultures of known and unknown peoples have charted and traversed the routes of this land’s majestic rivers, canyons and deserts. The living histories and rich legacies of its Native American, European, American, Latin American, mestizo and an infinite variety of multiethnic communities have left their unforgettable marks of progress and scars of regression. Frankly, to say, “I’m an Arizonan” is an imprecise statement at best. Our state, like our nation, is a continuous invention, a brilliant but everlastingly incomplete idea. That is why “free people” must always stand vigil against the tireless agents of repression. Arizonans should know, should make themselves aware, should understand that as eternally resplendent as our sunsets may seem, we are all but migrants in time. As such, let us welcome the newcomers. It is at once a selfless and selfish act. Because we are them.