Editor's Note: This column originally published Sept. 11, 2017.
An image I took years ago on Marshalltown’s Main Street, one that has long since been lost deep in thousands of images in my files, sometimes resurfaces in my mind and brings back the same feelings it conjured in that moment.
It was a young girl, probably 5, with beautiful long, dark hair. She was wearing a crisp, sparkly pink tutu around her waist that caught the sun as she bounced along the sidewalk as she took turns between spinning in crooked circles and smiling up at her father who was accompanying her. The image I took, simply because her joy was contagious, is the little girl smiling up at her dad and clasping onto his hand as he looks fondly down at her, echoing her joy and sharing his own look of pride.
At the time I was working with an inspiring group of people focused on building relationships and understanding between immigrants and the local community and sharing their efforts in various newspaper articles. Somehow this image captured the essence of the life and hope many of these families were seeking for their children.
Through this connection I met many DREAMers — undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as kids — but the young women I met perhaps made the most impact on how I came to understand their struggle and their dreams.
These women value and appreciate the education they were afforded in public school district, a right granted by the U.S. Supreme Court. They sought for higher education, driver’s licenses, legal jobs and many of their families were maneuvering their ways through a complex and often discouraging process of becoming U.S. citizens. Above all, they were seeking the security of feeling comfortable in the only country they’d ever known. Meanwhile, they were volunteering their time to build understanding in their community.
So when a news app alerted me last Sunday that President Trump was expected to end DACA, the program for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children, my thoughts and my heart drifted north.
I was fortunate in my career, and in my personal time, to meet and share the stories of some of this country’s 800,000 youth, an estimated 3,000 of which call Iowa home. The thought they were suddenly thrown into a fear like I will never know sank deep within me.
Congress has been called to act on DACA, but it was only after Congress didn’t for years act on DACA that it came to be via executive order. Since the announcement, the White House has back peddled in some aspects — promising that targeting these thousands of youth with dreams of contributing to their country won’t be sought after for deportation. The president has promised to act with “heart.” He may even “revisit” it should Congress not act.
Meanwhile, those benefiting from this program — raising children, paying mortgages, volunteering in their communities, working meaningful jobs, supporting our tax base and pledging their allegiance to our flag — are counting the days until their DACA expires. It’s a devastating decision that should dismay a moral compass.
Last week, we ran an article about our own governor supporting the end of DACA and urging Congress to act. The next day we featured an editorial cartoon of a young man in front of a classroom explaining he didn’t do much over the summer, but he still did more than Congress. Unfortunately, Congress doing nothing despite some members’ best efforts, has become the norm. It’s easy to become discouraged.
Yet, the spirit of these DREAMers I had the good fortune to meet demands I remain as hopeful as a little girl wearing a pink, sparkly tutu and spinning crooked circles on a sidewalk. It demands I recognize a country that still believes in the American Dream.
Contact Abigail Pelzer at email@example.com