Between ‘them’ and ‘you’ there is a nexus: the American Dream

June 26, 2020 6:33 am
Supporters of the DACA program rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (Robin Bravender/ States Newsroom Washington Bureau)

Supporters of the DACA program rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (Robin Bravender/ States Newsroom Washington Bureau)

“First of all, if you learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Atticus was on to something. 

But let’s go one step beyond. The Dreamers — immigrants who came here as children without documents — require us to not just climb into their skins, but to climb into their dreams.

These dreams are where the nexus between them and you exists, even if you are not an immigrant or someone with recent immigrant roots. Your dream is likely much the same.

That dream is one in which you are judged on your merits and succeed according to how hard and smart you work for that success. 

Stripped of the very real dynamics of privilege and status, this is essentially the American dream.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, gave Dreamers a shot at achieving that dream.

It was technically just a reprieve, and the ultimate solution lies in the hands of Congress. 

The Trump administration, the court said in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, had not provided sufficient legal justification for its action, trying to take away Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.

It can try again.

So, of course, President Donald Trump pledged via tweet to try again to dismantle the program that allows immigrants who arrived here as children without documents to stay, work or go to college.

But, any such action — including a case out of Texas that could fast-track another court ruling — will surely attract legal challenge, perhaps delaying any court action until after the presidential election. And this could lead to more permanent succor for the estimated 800,000 Dreamers in this country. This, of course, is provided that Trump is denied reelection.

So, about that “skin” and that dream.

I share some skin with the nation’s Dreamers. Getting into their skin and viewpoint — all the way — does not take much effort at all. 

Until I was six or so, my parents were undocumented immigrants under constant threat of discovery and deportation.

After immigration authorities came hunting, my parents were faced with a difficult choice. Return to Mexico and take their U.S.-born children with them or stay in the United States in continuous hiding in plain sight or seeking legal protection.

It wasn’t until I was older, after long talks with my father, that I appreciated the dilemma they had faced. Deportation was a real possibility and it would have been unthinkable that they would not take their children with them. We would essentially have been deported despite our U.S. citizenship. 

Wrap your head around that. My two older brothers and I, deported when much like many Dreamers, this was the only country and culture I knew. Even then, my English was far better than my Spanish. 

My parents opted for getting papers with the help of a sponsoring family member. 

Of course, because of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship, my brothers and I had an official option of staying if my parents were deported, but not an option looking at it realistically. How does a six-year-old make that decision? The parents in my life would have made that decision for me. So, turn that around. Does a child get to make the decision about coming to the U.S. if his or her parents are doing so? 

Walking in this skin is most important, of course, for that person of German and Scottish ancestry, whose mother was an immigrant and who has an immigrant wife and an immigrant ex-wife. That person would be Donald Trump, who, despite the polling, has wielded immigration as the ultimate wedge issue to rile up his base against immigrants and Dreamers.

Capitol rally to support Dreamers as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up cases against the Trump administration's push to end the DACA program. 11/12/19
Capitol rally to support Dreamers as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up cases against the Trump administration’s push to end the DACA program. 11/12/19

Part of his rap against these Dreamers is that, even if they were brought here as children, they came illegally. You know, “What part of illegal don’t you understand?”

Of course, the logical retort is, “What part of childhood don’t you understand?”

Dreamers are, for all practical purposes, U.S. citizens. Thanks to egalitarian education policies — backed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision — they have been educated in our public schools. 

By what reasoning can we conclude that, having invested this much in these children, that it is wise to then deport them?

The loss would be incalculable. Among my brothers and I there is a good measure of success — a lawyer, a journalist and former newspaper editor, a U.S. Navy veteran, a former small business owner and now a day-trader among us. 

The veteran is the journalist/newspaper editor. Me.


Dreamers dream of normal lives, lived in contribution to their communities, to society and to their families.

Without DACA, they are doomed to a life of working and living in the shadows. Most will not leave the only home they really know, even if stripped of DACA protections.

But the ultimate guarantee for them lies not in the courts but in Congress, which has attempted to address their plights but been blocked by both Trump and more nativist elements of the GOP.

For this solution to happen it will require defeat of those nativist forces in November. Even if immigration isn’t your issue, this president has already given ample reason for bringing about that goal.

To name a few: his handling of the pandemic and the economy and his tone-deaf and heavy-handed responses to the nation’s racial divisions that he claims are based in a law-and-order philosophy. 

His enablers in legislative offices, be they state or federal, have given us many of the same reasons for not returning them to office.

Of course, comprehensive immigration reform is ultimately what is needed. Dreamers’ parents came without documents because our system is so broken that the only way to come, for many, is to come illegally. And this happens at the same time that our economy demands their presence. As the U.S. labor pool diminishes, this will become even more apparent.

But the Dreamers are different. They had no say in coming here. They dream the American Dream. They are, for all practical purposes, Americans.

With ample data that show immigrants work harder and even more than the rest of us, this should be an easy dream for the rest of us to buy into. Go ahead. Think about it. Climb into their skin.


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O. Ricardo Pimentel
O. Ricardo Pimentel

O. Ricardo Pimentel has been a journalist for about 40 years. He was most recently the managing editor at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, was editorial page editor for the San Antonio Express-News in Texas and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before that. He has also worked in various editing and reporting positions in newspapers in California, Arizona, Texas and Washington D.C., where he covered Congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court for McClatchy Newspapers. He is the author of two novels and lives in Wisconsin.