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Amnesty for a convicted felon, 800,000 young people summarily condemned

Alberto Ledesma, New America Media | 9/14/2017, 6 a.m.

I first became a “dreamer” more than 40 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.