When you don’t know what to say to a DACA recipient fearing the future

Today was the first day of school for Chicago Public Schools. I knew that some time during my teaching day, Trump would make his announcement about Obama’s Executive Order protecting immigrants who were brought here illegally as children.

Sure enough, Attorney General Jeff Session announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) would be rescinded. DACA expires March 5, 2018.

Since Obama’s decision in 2012, I’ve seen how this opportunity to work, and study, and envision a future improved the outlook of so many undocumented high-school students in Chicago. Estimates say about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year.

I’ve seen striving, intelligent undocumented students go on to good colleges. I know one aspiring for a Ph.D.

I’ve heard DACA recipients talk over and over about wanting to do something to improve our communities. Their benevolence inspires.

But today, I didn’t know what to say. I’m not undocumented, never have been. I can’t pretend to know what life without papers means to a young person.

This was all I could say on Twitter during my lunch:







I reached out individually to a few DACA recipients I know who are now in college and told them to stay strong.

They surprised me. They didn’t respond with disillusionment or despair or any sense of fear. They showed their courage:


And another one:

And another:

They reminded me that they are not weak. They’ve forged a future—as unstable as it may be—despite their circumstances as undocumented immigrants, circumstances they did not create.

On the drive home, I listened to an interview with a DACA recipient on NPR’s All Things Considered. Juan De La Rosa calmly articulated what today’s decision means for him:

“I didn’t have to face full illegality when I was growing up. And all throughout college, even, you know, a little bit beyond college now, I’ve always had that sort of DACA protection. And so I don’t know what it’s like to be an adult that doesn’t have any sort of status. And so I think making that adjustment is going to be very difficult for me . . . I know that my role is going to be to be out in the streets and to be using my voice just like the individuals who fought for DACA five years ago or, you know, six years ago did for me.”

I admired the sense of determination to overcome his circumstances.

In the next few months, I hope legal experts and DACA-sympathetic news sources put out information to guide families about how to prepare for this uncertain future.  Here’s one resource:


That’s one way we can help DACA recipients: help them access accurate information.

And we can remember the words of Josefina Lopez, the screenwriter of Real Women Have Curves and someone who grew up undocumented until she obtained legal residency as an adult.

In an interview with me on Chicago Public Radio in 2003 when her movie came out, she shared how invisible she felt without papers, how the fear of the unknown dominated parts of her life.

Maybe, at a moment when a DACA recipient we know tells us he or she feels hopeless and we feel speechless, we might say what Josefina Lopez said:

“You are not your circumstances. You are not your body. You are not your attitude. You are an incredible spirit, and your power is immeasurable.”

And we can let them know that they are not alone.

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