Posted by Guest on September 29, 2017 in Blog

By Sarah Seniuk

Since President Trump announced his intention to end President Obama’ Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action, dozens of articles have been posted every day exploring DACA, the DREAM Act, who is most affected, and what is at stake both for DACA recipients and the country at large.

An under discussed component of DACA is the risk and reward of visibility. To be a DACA recipient, individuals had to make themselves visible to the US government, expose the vulnerability of their undocumented status with hopes of gaining the opportunity to work and go to school, to organize for rights, to serve their country. But to make themselves visible they were forced to more actively confront the vulnerability of detention and deportation, the possibility of being removed from their families and the only home they have known. There is a fear, that if DACA were repealed, the new visibility of DACA recipients will be used against them.

The issue of visibility is particularly important to Arab Americans, and not just because at least 1,250 DACA recipients come from Arab countries. A year following the September 11th attacks, the US government instituted the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which required non-citizen men and boys from predominantly Muslim countries to register with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). NSEERS ultimately failed as a counter terrorism initiative, it instead “led to the deportations of thousands of people from Muslim-majority countries for minor civil immigration violations and brought an abrupt end to their productive jobs, property ownership and community ties. … It also caused egregious civil liberties offenses including racial profiling, unlawful arrests and detentions of individuals who were not even required to register under the program.”  

The potential repeal of DACA can recreate some of these very real consequences of NSEERS. But the preservation of DACA through the passage of the DREAM Act puts forth the ability to reap the rewards of visibility. DACA recipients have already used their protected status to lobby for the ability to get a driver’s license, to argue the right to receive in-state tuition for school, and reinvest in their communities.

But visibility in this way is more than the legal protections and opportunities granted. It is also a public declaration of identity, worth, and self-determination. A common narrative of DACA recipients is that they have always thought of themselves as American, have in fact known themselves to be American, often with only the pursuit of work or drivers licenses alerting them to their undocumented status. Such was the case of Kamal Essaheb, an Arab American DACA recipient who didn’t learn of his undocumented status until his acceptance into law school and an impending possible deportation. DACA recipients are already enmeshed in the cultural fabric of the US, and today they are telling the world who they are, what they value, and how they understand themselves.

Sarah Seniuk is a fall 2017 intern at the Arab American Institute.

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