On Monday, September 18, Congressman Keith Ellison made a visit to MCTC to speak and answer questions regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Joining him as speakers were John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, and Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, executive director of Navigate, an organization that helps provide access to education to all immigrant students regardless of legal status, and has an office at MCTC.
The evening started with an introduction by Avalos, stating “We were intentional when we decided to have this conversation here,” referring to our high immigrant population here at MCTC, and a population of about 200 undocumented students.
Keller stood and reminded us that, “we’ve been on a rollercoaster as far back as the [Trump] campaign… the promise was that on day one, DACA would be rescinded.”
He explained that we started to hear more DACA-positive statements from President Trump as early as late November.
“I love these kids… I find it very hard to do exactly what the law says to do”, said Trump in February of this year.
But on September 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the phasing out of DACA.
Keller also gave a rundown of who can reapply for DACA, and invited DACA recipients to head to the back of the room where pro bono attorneys from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid were hoping to screen students for their reapplication.
Ellison gave a short speech before opening the room for questions. He said people fighting this immigration fight were “bringing hope to… a situation where it sometimes feels like hope is in short supply.”
He also gave credit to the immigrants who clean peoples’ offices, who guard their buildings and who are doing their best to support their families and communities as equals to the DACA recipients who are doctors.
“They are the the salt of the earth and they are holding the sky up everyday,” said Ellison.
These sentiments were echoed in almost all of his responses to questions.
He also gave reasons why letter writing, emailing and calling members of Congress, even if you agree with them, are important parts of democracy.
“I’m going in there carrying your voice”, said Ellison. “I want to make sure I get it right”.
He also said that he often cites how many letters, emails and calls he’s received when talking to his colleagues in Congress.
The Q&A section of the visit was opened and a statement from Estefania Navarro, a Star Program adviser and former MCTC student, was raised.
“I believe it’s people like my mom who deserve a chance to go after their dreams,” said Navarro. “She was the one to dare to believe there was a better future here. If anything, I would like to see some protection for the elderly undocumented. They are the most vulnerable in my opinion.”
Ellison responded with an explanation to the crowd why its not a good argument to say “they were brought here as children by their parents, and it wasn’t their fault… that implies that somehow, their parents are at fault.”
“It was people who took a very courageous stand to protect their children and their families who left their homes,” said Ellison.
He said while the DACA order wants to benefit one generation over the other, it warmed his heart to hear a younger person express what Navarro did.
There is not a clear policy protecting DACA recipients’ parents at this time.
A high school faculty member asked how to talk to people who may not agree that DACA recipients should remain in this country.
“First of all, you need to make it a heart connection. Human beings are probably not even half-rational. People are emotional beings,” said Ellison.
“While it might be beneficial to the economy, to pass a DACA bill that… gives people real status, that’s not the reason to do it,” said Eliison. “The reason to do it is that these are our fellow human beings and [they] belong and deserve a safe, permanent space where they can live.”
Ellison made his stance clear: while certainly the U.S. economy would take a hit if DACA were to be rescinded, (according to CNBC.com “…the Center for American Progress that estimated the loss of DACA workers would reduce U.S. gross domestic product by $433 billion over the next 10 years.”) folks in favor of DACA need to fight from a strong moral standpoint.