Incredibles 2 and the Ethics of DACA

Jul 27, 2018
1:17 PM

Last September, DACA was rescinded. According to Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General who announced the decision in a press conference, the enactment of the program was an example of executive overreach. In the administration’s view, Barack Obama did not have the authority to effectuate this policy. Sessions’ discourse, however, belied the administration’s true intentions: “…it [the decision to rescind DACA] will enable our country to more effectively teach new immigrants about our system of government and to assimilate them to the cultural underpinnings that support it.” This was about assimilation and defining what it means to be a part of the fabric of America. Per this decision, in the eyes of the Trump administration, Dreamers were not a part of this fabric.

Democrats in Congress responded by feigning interest in defending the futures of Dreamers. In January of this year, they forced a shutdown of the government for a few short days before kowtowing to Republican demands. That same month, a court injunction stepped in to allow DACA renewals to continue. Today, the future of Dreamers is up in the air. Congress has forgotten about DACA, the media continues to drone on about Russia and a battle over the program’s future is forthcoming in the courts.

Good riddance, politicians!

In in a time of precarity for DACA recipients, the Incredibles have arrived!

Incredibles 2 is a socially and politically subversive film. The movie turns gender roles on their heads, acknowledges the powerful influence of the younger generations and most saliently, illumines the absurdity and evil behind the decision by the Trump administration to rescind DACA. Pixar’s beloved family of animated superheroes tackles the ethical dimensions of DACA’s demise head on, bringing to the forefront a conversation about the ethics of “illegality,” something that the American political establishment has avoided for decades.

The film begins with the Incredibles coming to the rescue when their animated city, Municiberg, is attacked by a villain. In other words, the Incredibles are using their talents for the benefit of their community and playing their rightful role in society.

“Should we be doing this? It is still illegal,” Violet asks cautiously.

The Incredibles successfully thwart the villainous figure, but they are apprehended by the authorities shortly after. As it turns out, superheroes had been stripped of their legal status by the government, and thus their heroic actions are unlawful.

“Now we gotta go back to never using our powers,” one younger Incredible laments.

The Incredibles must go “underground” and refrain from using their superpowers. This is much like what the impending mark of “illegality” threatens to do to DACA recipients. Thousands of teachers, businessmen, web developers, service workers, and those in a boundless array of other professions would no longer be able to use their talents, at least lawfully.

The film challenges the notion that what is legal is also what is ethically right. Superheroes help fight crime and maintain a just society They have valuable talents to contribute to their community. Yet it is the political establishment deems superheroes a threat to the same society they are a part of and makes them effectively “illegal.” The film lucidly illustrates the absurdity of revoking the legal protections of hundreds of thousands of young Americans with hopes, aspirations and gifts to give to their community.

The illegal status of superheroes leads to frank family discussions at the Incredible dinner table. This conversation could have been picked out of an average American household in Trump’s America grappling with the ethical dimensions of immigration reform, and in particular, the future of Dreamers.

Violet does not understand why superheroes are made illegal and wants to continue to fight crime. Perhaps this a bit of teenage angst and rebellion. Elastigirl, the family’s matriarch, retorts to Violet’s complaints: “Superheroes are illegal, that’s the law!” Mr. Incredible, the father, challenges his wife’s black and white assessment: “The law is wrong!”

“The law is the law…without the law, we have chaos!,” Elastigirl exclaims, unconvinced by her husband. It is this ethical dilemma on which the remainder of the film hinges. It is dilemma that America too must face on immigration.

A June Gallup poll shows that 83% of Americans either favor or strongly favor allowing undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children the opportunity to become U.S citizens if they meet certain requirements. Yet it is a deep-seated fear of losing grip on the “rule of law” that is keeping Dreamers in limbo. In his DACA-ending remarks, Jeff Sessions smugly expressed that “No greater good can be done for the overall health and well-being of our Republic, than preserving and strengthening the impartial rule of law. Societies where the rule of law is treasured are societies that tend to flourish and succeed.”

The law, however, is not always righteous. The same system of laws that Sessions —and many Americans for that matter— so desperately clings to is the same system of law that legitimized slavery and segregation, created internment camps for Japanese immigrants and was for a long time silent in the face of widespread lynchings. America, in its abstract ideal —an ideal that has rarely been lived up to but that we must continue to strive toward— is a much higher calling than the laws that reign it.

The Incredibles heed this call.

Elastigirl is selected by a media mogul to be the public face of superheroes—a character that will exemplify the qualities of “supers,” and show the world how necessary it is to give them legal status. This puzzles her daughter Violet. “So, mom is going out illegally to explain why she shouldn’t be illegal?”

Elastigirl, in all of her heroic glory, plays a role similar to that of many Dreamers who publicly protest their own lack of legal status. Elastigirl recognizes her own conundrum: “to fix the law, I have to break it.” This is in many ways a parallel situation to that of Dreamers. Our presence remains unlawful. Yet, our efforts, and those of our allies, have given many of us a temporary reprieve in the form of DACA. The Incredibles get it, and they bring this legal kerfuffle to the forefront of the American mind at a time when it seems that Dreamers, and all undocumented immigrants, have been once again forgotten.

The film’s awareness of our political moment, and the legal challenges that lay ahead for Dreamers, is uncanny. Perhaps the most poignant reference to the current debate over the future of Dreamers comes during a conversation between Mr. Incredible and Violet.

“I’m sorry about you having to pay the price a choice you never made,” he tells her.

Dreamers too are burdened with their own or own original sin. In our case, this original sin is the consequence of our parents’ desire to give us the best life possible. It is a sin that I proudly carry. And a sin, as the Incredibles teach us, is really no sin at all.


Carlos Ruiz is a PhD student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. He studies Mexican American Catholicism in the Midwest and the U.S. Sanctuary Movement. He tweets from @CarlosIRuizM.