“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight. You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.” -Barack Obama, election night 2012
Yup. This is the kind of thing the self-proclaimed “bad dreamers” have been saying sarcastically for a little over a year now. “Obama is African-American and he became president. What’s wrong with all you other African-American kids who aren’t succeeding, huh? This is America!”
“Bad dreamers” is one of the names that the youth in the L.A. “undocu-culture” have for themselves. They are undocumented immigrants who, for one reason or another, are not eligible for deferred action through the California DREAM Act, yet embrace their “illegal” status through civil disobedience, art, and scandalously sporting t-shirts that say UNDOCUMENTED in bright, rebellious lettering. Like the Dreamers, these immigrant youth came to the U.S. as children, but because they did not meet the requirements specified in the law, they’re still restricted from rights like voting, driving, and residing in the U.S.
Obama has been pushing for the federal DREAM Act since the beginning of his presidency, which would seem to be an act in support of the abovementioned quote from his 2012 victory speech. The night of the election, our president bragged about how “compassionate” and “generous” this country is to consider letting so many flag-pledging, immigrants’ daughters dream… but what about the “bad” ones? Does the fact that they are not eligible for deferred action mean that that they are criminals, not resilient, or not “willing to try”?
Of course, there has to be a limit to how many immigrants can be allowed to apply for deferred action, and naturally, the U.S. would prefer the ones with good grades and clear records to stay in the country and work. But how can you tell if the ones who missed the cut really don’t deserve to be here, or are just the victims of a broken system (poor public education, coyote capitalism, forced migration, etc)?
It seems that because of dilemmas like this, we may never realistically be a country where a statement like “you can make it in America if you’re willing to try” isn’t a subtle “eff you” to all the immigrants who can’t legally work, drive, or vote in order to become real dreamers and succeed. I guess it’s understandable that amnesty can only go so far in a nation with many other pressing issues, but Obama definitely made a mistake during his speech when he implied that all the bad dreamers in California, many of whom grew up as English Language Learners in underfunded schools believing their very presence here was a bad thing, simply weren’t “willing to try.”