Time to Act on the Dream (OPINION)

Mar 22, 2021
12:41 PM

In this September 4, 2017 file photo, a supporter of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, waves a flag during a rally outside the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

As with so many immigrants who came before me, the promise of America has always been my dream. It came one step closer to reality on March 18, when the House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act (HR6), which now heads to the Senate. The bill would, at long last, provide a clear pathway to citizenship for me and more than a million other Dreamers who were granted protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—and threatened with imminent deportation by Donald Trump. Its approval would be a big step toward a sensible and forward-looking immigration policy. And Texas, home to one in five Latinos and the second-largest concentration of DACA recipients, stands to be a major beneficiary.

When I moved to Texas in 2009 from Dalton, Georgia, I was drawn by the state’s potential to be a model of inclusion and dynamic growth. I wanted to contribute to that future, and I immediately felt I belonged. And why not? Spanish-language street signs are organic to the landscape, and our culture and ancestors are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Our hands built Texas, from the Traqueros who laid the tracks of our railway lines to every new office building or home going up today. So much of what is essential in our state depends upon the labor of Latinos—both documented and undocumented.

Yet so often, we seem to be in denial about the bonds that connect us. Texas has become synonymous with cruelty and inhumanity in our immigration system, from detention centers and family separation, to “show me your papers” laws, and venal anti-immigrant rhetoric —including from elected officials— that helped fuel the murder of 23 people in the worst anti-Latino attack of modern American history.

We know we can be, and do, so much better. Nearly two-thirds of Texas voters support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. As I’ve traveled the state organizing youth and new voters,  I’ve been heartened by the insights of ordinary people, from kitchen tables in Lubbock to lecture halls in Austin,  who want us to move from destructive and chaotic policies to embrace rational solutions.

At the peak of the 2020 election cycle, I was asked to speak about immigration with a group of predominantly older white Texans at a small Mexican restaurant in the town of Cypress. When I first walked into the room I was anonymous, no one noticed me. But after I gave my speech about needing to be fearless and hopeful in this moment, to take this chance to transform Texas and the country, it was so different. People lined up to shake my hand and thank me for sharing my story and vulnerability. Each person I spoke with that night committed to advocate for me and others like me—to rally, organize and vote to correct the immigration failures of Texas and the US.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown us how intimately and critically our lives are intertwined. Right now, there are over 4,000 DACA recipients on the frontlines as healthcare workers. They are among the nearly one million undocumented essential workers in every industry across Texas, 75% of whom have been in the U.S. for over 10  years. Last month, a coalition of top Texas businesses, with support from Sen. John Cornyn, finally recognized that we are invaluable members of our communities.

Having lived through this tumultuous crisis together, what better time than now to align our practices and policies with our lived reality and our real relationships to each other?

Sorting through boxes recently as part of pandemic housecleaning, I came across my original DACA papers. It’s been almost a full decade since DACA opened important doors for me: I could advance my education, get a driver’s license, and work.  But what DACA couldn’t give me was permanent peace of mind. I can’t dream without limits because I have to renew my DACA status every two years, and more recently, every year. And the trauma of living in limbo became a nightmare under the bullying inhumanity of the Trump Era.

To close that chapter permanently, we need a durable solution. Our parents, tíos, and abuelas were brave when they left their homes, their communities, and everything familiar to open doors for us. Now, we Dreamers fight every day for ourselves, our families, and our rights. For every DACA recipient, there’s a mother, father, sibling, or uncle who lives without even that tenuous protection. They too, deserve to breathe free. I hope that subsequent legislation will provide relief for them as well.

The American Dream and Promise Act is a good start. Its passage will enable me to get closer to becoming a citizen in the only country I’ve ever truly known, and it will enable Texas to live up to its promise. As Texans, we know we are innovative, pragmatic, engaged, and always up to a new challenge. Together, we can spur our government to take action, and hold it accountable to a vision born from courage and sustained by community. And when we look back on this moment in history, we’ll see that our resilience and strength built a better Texas and America, in which all its people can dream big.


Antonio Arellano is Interim Executive Director of Jolt, a progressive civic engagement organization focused on building the political power and influence of young Latinos in Texas.