2015 Ascend Fellows Statement on DACA Executive Order

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the undersigned members of the 2015 class of Ascend Fellows and don’t necessarily represent the views of the Aspen Institute. Ascend Fellows are entrepreneurial leaders with the vision to advance the educational success, economic security, and health and well-being of children and families. 

This statement is about several large ideas: home, family, contributions, and promises.

Home is an emotional concept, that relates to where one feels a sense of belonging, of understanding, and of shared experiences with others. For many, one’s mental construct of home is indeed where they currently live; that may be where they grew up or where they have chosen to settle. For others, “home” may not be where they live now, but they have the option to return to where they consider home. For yet others, that option may not exist. In any case, the desire to be in a place one considers to be your “home” is a strong, and inherently human drive.

Family is a related idea, less about place, and more about people and the connections between them. These can be defined by biology or by circumstance. In the two-generation work that we are all engaged with to support children and the adults in their lives, we recognize the importance of strong, nurturing, responsive relationships. Family is less about a legal definition and more about a sense of shared well-being, of mutual regard, and of a collective destiny where support to benefit one benefits all.

When a sense of belonging exists—a notion of being at “home” and of being part of a “family”—there follows a strong urge to contribute. While one can of course contribute in many settings, it is often strongest when driven by familiarity and of membership in that place. Contributions frequently involve the giving of work, talent, money, and support to improve the world about you, to make it a better place—because this is what is familiar and has nurtured you into the being you are today. Tied up in all this is a desire to give back and to build not only for the next generation, but to support what is there now.

We must remember that we are all immigrants or descended from immigrants, contributing to our country’s advancement.

It is in this context that we are dismayed by the news that the Trump administration is choosing to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This program — which applies to undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday, have met certain educational requirements, and remained free of significant legal entanglements—allows for protection from deportation and for eligibility for a work permit. In doing so, it provided a measure of security in allowing recipients to remain in what is likely the only home they have known, and to contribute meaningfully towards that home—not only through work, but also through advanced education and paying taxes.

Notably, DACA does not confer any legal status, nor does it permit receipt of most benefit programs, but the strength of being able to openly contribute to a place recipients call “home” is such that it overwhelms these considerations. DACA recipients, known colloquially as “Dreamers”, are, in many ways, an example of how compelling the American Dream is—they are willing to declare their undocumented status in return for a chance to move out of the shadows and be part of the wind in the sails of our country’s productivity and forward progress. They wish to support not only themselves but their own children, who are American citizens. Dreamers came here as children, with no say in that decision and often unaware of their legal status until years after the choice was made for them.

As leaders in the world of two-generation solutions, we work in a variety of areas where we encounter Dreamers. We also remember that even as established “leaders”, we are all immigrants or descended from immigrants, contributing to our country’s advancement in a variety of fields. Ultimately, we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

We understand how Dreamers seek to improve their own lives and those around them. We see how America is indeed what they consider home and our nation’s citizens as an extended family. And we also see how their drive and desire to contribute can only better us as a country, with their intellectual capabilities added to the workforce when allowed to flourish through education and training. We’ve looked into their eyes as they’ve spoken about college and what their future may hold.

The science of brain development tells us that there are key times in which learning and skill-building occur with greater ease. The specter of possible deportation is already resulting in delays among Dreamers seeking education. This is not a mere “pause” or inconvenience; it’s a stunting of potential contributions back to us.

All this brings us to the last item: promises. Ultimately, DACA is about a compact between undocumented individuals who arrived here as children and the executive branch of the federal government. It’s a promise from the Dreamers that they would work hard, complete schooling, stay out of trouble, and assume the obligations of citizens to contribute and pay taxes. In turn, the government made a promise to not prosecute them for a status brought upon them when they were children. What we are seeing is a grim reality where the breaking of faith is placing families in jeopardy—a reality where US citizen children may see their hard-working parents forced to leave the only home they’ve ever known.

The Dreamers have kept up their end of the bargain. Have we?

Prepared by the following members of the Aspen Ascend Fellowship Class of 2015:

John Annis
Betsy Delgado
Laurie Miller Brotman
Melvin Carter
Maria Harper-Marinick
Raquel Hatter
Aisha Nyandoro
Kevin Jordan
Ann Kalass
Kirsten Lodal
Dipesh Navsaria
Felix Matos Rodriguez
William Serrata
Sherece West-Scantlebury
Darius Tandon
Sarah Watamura
Roxane White
Katherine Winograd