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The Morality and Legality of DACA

(Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

The question of DACA can be discussed in two spheres. 

There, of course, begs the question of morality, what is just based on our own understanding of what is just and unjust. And then, there are the legal aspects of the fate of DACA which in our world is what will ultimately decide the final verdict. In this article, I’d like to tackle both of those perspectives and perhaps demonstrate the connections between the two. 

In its most glorious and elevated condition, the law is meant to be solid, unbreakable, fair, and unbiased. The tradition of precedent aims for consistency and the US Constitution aims for timelessness. However, in many aspects the constitution is outdated, and this isn’t simply anti-traditionalist banter, it’s based upon the fact politics itself has completely changed since the time the ancient document, that we worship like the bible, was created. A primary, and very relevant example, is the growth of presidential power over centuries. As Benjamin Ginsberg, a Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University argues, “talented and ambitious presidents have pushed the boundaries of the office adding new powers that were seldom surrendered by their successors”. 

Not to mention, that every administration, and I mean every administration, and every party will interpret the constitution and other laws to their advantage. 

Now let’s place that in the context of DACA and talk about how this policy was first enacted. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)  is a policy that gives individuals with unlawful presence in the US after being brought to the country as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit in the U.S These are individuals who (in summary):

  1. Are at least 15 when they apply and have been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012. 
  2. Are in school, a high school graduate or holder of a high school completion certificate or GED, or an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard. 
  3. Are not convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors are ineligible for the program. 

Former President Barack Obama brought DACA into existence through an executive order in 2012 after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act. Since then, over 700,000 received DACA and another million are eligible. Now, Trump and other Republicans are arguing that this was an overreach of power on behalf of the executive branch and used it in their justification to get rid of DACA. What I find amusing, and perhaps it is a simplistic perspective, is that presidents in past have waged wars (unofficially, of course, the Vietnam war is a prime example) that have resulted in the death of thousands, but legislation designed to provide a chance of a normal life without the fear of deportation, is a disgraceful overreach of power. Many argue that per Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, complete authority is given to Congress to determine our nation’s immigration rules. However, if something was so blatantly unconstitutional, it wouldn’t have been enacted in the first place. Quite simply, “DACA is within the scope of presidential authority because it does not change the law, and does not legalize anything that would otherwise be illegal” as Ilya Somin argues in several articles

In their attempts to challenge DACA, Trump and his Republicans have been successful in stopping new applicants from receiving DACA, however, older recipients can still renew it thanks to many lower court challenges. Why didn’t Trump simply get rid of DACA? Because after all, if one president can place an executive order in place, then the next one can simply remove it. However, Trump hid behind the argument of unconstitutionality instead to avoid even more backlash from politicians and the public because a direct stance against DACA, based on moral disagreements is not a smart political stance, even for Trump. In fact, this is one of the reasons why the lower courts were able to challenge his decision: he didn’t provide an adequate reason as to why it was a bad policy. Simply put, the Trump Administration cannot provide a moral argument as to why DACA should be destroyed. 

However, the fate of DACA is no longer in the hands of the executive branch and will be moving on to the Supreme Court in June by the request of Donald Trump. This court hearing will not be deciding the constitutionality of DACA, but instead, the validity of the lower courts challenges to Trump’s decision. And, this decision is going to outlast any presidential executive order. Here are the possible outcomes of this hearing summarized from Vox’s coverage

1st: The Court could affirm the lower court decisions, meaning that handing a narrow victory to the Dreamers. This outcome is unlikely, given the Court’s Republican majority and the views expressed by several members of that majority in a similar 2016 case.

2nd: It could affirm Trump’s decision and deem the Trump administration’s reasoning regarding its decision to wind down DACA are adequate, and thus the administration can move forward in shutting it down while leaving the door open for future administrations to potentially revive it with good enough reasoning.  

3rd: The Court could decide that the DACA program is, itself, unlawful. In this last scenario, the Court would not just allow DACA to be wound down under Trump — it would forbid any future president from reviving it. 

The court is presently more right wing, so a victory for Trump is more likely and a fully revived DACA is nearly impossible.  In the crossfire of legal battle after legal battle are the lives of Dreamers themselves. 

While the political world is having a shouting match over who is right and who is wrong, the 700,000 individuals who have built their lives in the US, who have made deep impacts in their community, and who are now fighting on the frontlines of the COVID 19 outbreak are waiting to see if their safety is in jeopardy, for a choice that they did not make. The USFD could never deport the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the US, it only has the resources to deport 400,000 per year. What I find baffling, from a moral standpoint, is that from all the battles the Trump administration could choose to fight in immigration it chose a group of young, working, educated individuals who have no criminal background and cause absolutely no harm. Dreamers had placed their trust in the US Federal Government, giving them personal information that, if in the wrong hands, could lead ICE right to their doorstep.

To forget the people behind the policy, to justify jeopardizing the lives of thousands of people, is simply a consequence of the trend of dehumanization of immigrants in the US. If this concerned any other group of people there would be public outrage across the country.

Because the ball is now in the Supreme Court (no pun intended) there is very little the rest of the country can do. One can only hope that whatever the outcome, Dreamers can continue to dream.

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Dare to Dream: A Day of Justice, Art, and Empowerment

The Monarch Project will be hosting a public art and advocacy event at the Reunited Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa CA on May 2nd!

Dare to Dream is an event centered around promoting the protection of immigrant worker rights in Sonoma County through community art, film, and advocacy. The event will be composed of several central parts including a poster sale and exhibition of artwork created by The Monarch Project, and other local artists and art organizations discussing immigration. The funds will be donated to immigrant families in Sonoma County.

To submit pieces for the exhibition and the poster sale check out our page on Creative Sonoma which outlines the details and all the necessary steps. Everyone is welcome to submit their art!

We will also have a monarch butterfly painting workshop for all ages and skill levels lead by local artists. You can also stop by our photo booth and snap a picture with your own pair of butterfly wings!

The conclusion of the event will be a collection of speakers that represent the workers and Dreamers of Sonoma County who will share their stories and experiences and offer opportunities to further support the cause. 

Following the events taking place outdoors at the Reunited Courthouse Square, we will be showing a series of short films that tell the stories of immigrants in Sonoma County created by My American Dreams at the Glaser Center Auditorium.

Please help support our very first public event and join us on May 2nd at the Reunited Courthouse Square!


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Why Art and Activism?

Art is not the first thing that is associated with activism, but its value in social justice movements, revolutions, uprisings,  and in any other social change, is priceless. Perhaps the most obvious example is propaganda: compelling images blending and bending the truth with lies in just the right manner so the lines are blurred and all we see is what they want us to see. Its charm is its repeatability, over and over we can be bombarded with a message on every wall, pole, website, and magazine so that it imprints in our brain forever. Take Mao’s bright god-like depiction on countless posters, or “Grandpa Lenin” holding children and promising people “Peace, Land, and Bread.” Not to mention the Office of War Information, created by Franklin D. Roosevelt in order to create and spread propaganda across the nation in support of World War II.

Long live the victory of Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line (1968).

This demonstrates that art has in fact been hugely involved and influential in some of the most major events in the history of mankind. However, these examples do render art to be sinister- full of dark powers that blind us from reality. I believe that it does not have to be, and should not be. But The Monarch Project uses art for the exact same reason: its power to tell stories unlike anything else. Divisive times like ours are full of interpretations and regurgitation of information that is designed to draw deep and dark lines between people. We are flooded with sound bites, entire crises and histories are stuffed into a fifteen-second video splattered across the media. We have forgotten to think for ourselves and have lost any slivers of our attention span, craving quick and effortless understanding and action. This does not leave enough room for nuance and detail. For multi-layered problems and multiple perspectives, it can be tragic. One story, easily understood and spread, comes to represent an entire population of people. This is especially convenient if one is trying to demonize a group, and use one intimidating narrative that deems all individuals in that group criminals, aliens, rapists, and dangers to America. This is what the actions and rhetoric used by the current administration have and continue to create with regard to the immigration crisis.

It would be naive of me to say that “art is above it all” or that it is the remedy to this problem, but if used correctly, it can change perceptions, optics, and narratives by providing perspective in a nonjudgemental, non-accusatory, and open manner. Its simplicity and beauty can even become almost disarming. It allows everyone, regardless of their preconceived notions, beliefs, and backgrounds to better understand others and their stories. Of course, there is no guarantee as to who will truly be changed or moved by artwork, that is part of the very nature of art after all, however it most certainly is more effective than repeating the same heated arguments over and over.

Artist: Shepard Fairey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This ability to connect and reach out is vital to the success of any movement, especially to one as polarizing and controversial as the immigrants’ rights movement. So, we have placed art as the root of our project, using its beautiful powers to use to redefine conversations about immigrants by reminding everyone of that at the root of the debate, the political games, and ICE raids, are humans.

Thus, art and activism can go hand in hand, and when they do, innovative and powerful projects like The Monarch Project are born, with the potential to create real and beautiful change in the world.

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Share your story!

We are actively looking for immigrants who are willing to share their stories with us. One of our goals is to show who immigrants are, so that people may better understand what it means to be one in the US. However, we also understand that this is something that is personal, and often times a risk for those who are undocumented, thus we will not share identities or any personal information unless the individual allows us to. 

If you or someone you know is an immigrant (documented or undocumented) who wants to submit a story to be displayed here, please contact our team at socoimmigrants@gmail.com

Your story may be shared through The Butterfly Project, where each butterfly represents the story of an immigrant.

Another way these stories may be shared are through one of our short films. An example of such a film is found below. The following video highlights the importance of DACA to young undocumented immigrants in our communities and the importance of the rights granted to them by DACA to study, work, and reside legally to have a better future.