Defending DACA: A Muslim Issue, Too

September 7, 2017

Photo by Harrie van Veen (CC BY 2.0)
Photo by Harrie van Veen (CC BY 2.0)

By Hassan Ahmad, Guest Contributor

President Trump rescinded the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA. DACA temporarily shields certain undocumented immigrants, commonly known as “Dreamers,” from deportation who entered the U.S. as children and meet certain residency and background requirements. It also provides them lawful work authorization. It provides no path to citizenship, nor does it grant any lawful status. It is merely a promise by the government not to deport. Since its inception in 2012, approximately 800,000 young people have received DACA protection, enabling them to come out of the shadows, stop living in fear, and reach their potential in the only country many of them have ever called home.

DACA was never meant to be more than a stop-gap measure. The real fix for Dreamers is the Dream Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship, but this has repeatedly failed since it was originally introduced in 2001. But DACA was still a life changer for hundreds of thousands of young people.

DACA is often seen as a Latino issue. Not that it should matter, but writing as an immigration lawyer who has had the privilege of serving communities from 115 countries for nearly 15 years, DACA is most definitely a Muslim issue, too. It's not just because Muslims consider it a religious duty to give voice to the voiceless.

Many of you may remember the NSEERS program. Begun in 2002, it forced certain male immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register with the federal government. Passed under the guise of national security, they were told various things about not being detained or deported. While no national security threat was detected or thwarted, thousands were detained and deported anyway. We know how it feels to be registered with the government and have that information used against us.

This is exactly what is happening with the DACA revocation. Young immigrants who typically had no say in coming to the U.S. were coaxed to register with the government in exchange for protection from deportation and a work permit. Now the Trump administration, in a blatant display of bad faith, will make that information available to aid in their detention and deportation.

Like refugees from Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Somalia, and others, many Dreamers came with their parents fleeing horrific violence in their home countries. Desperation led many parents to seek their futures in the United States, children in tow, only to find themselves mistrusted and maligned.

While Muslims have a religious duty to stand up for justice “even against their kin,” the Muslim Dreamers should not be forgotten either. I have represented many of them, and they have told me that our community frequently does not recognize the stigma they face when they have a problem not seen as a “Muslim” problem. They suffer in silence, their own community frequently not even aware of their plight.

Standing Up For Justice

I was on the ground as a volunteer lawyer at Washington-Dulles International Airport during the first Muslim ban. On that chaotic Saturday night, the majority of the protesters chanting their support and love for their Muslim neighbors were non-Muslim. They acknowledged Islamophobia existed and said that it “had to go.” It was humbling and instructive – so much so, that I took my children to see this spectacle of ordinary Americans standing up for a group being unfairly targeted. And that's exactly what is happening to the Dreamers. They are involuntarily undocumented, as blameless as any refugee, yet the anti-immigrant faction continues to paint them as lawbreakers and criminals.

When immigration laws rip up families, detain children, and target groups based on national origin or religion, they cease being a civil issue and become a civil rights issue. There is a dark place in which these policies were forged, engineered for maximum impact on the affected community.

What You Can Do

First, stop seeing DACA as another community's problem. Second, advocate through your own channels. Stand up for the Dreamers. Third, pick up the phone and call your members of Congress at (202) 224-3121. Let them know they should be publicly defending DACA and pushing for a path to citizenship for these extraordinary young people.

Hassan Ahmad is an immigration lawyer, member of the Virginia Asian Advisory Board, Dulles Justice Coalition volunteer, and a frequent speaker on immigration issues. He tweets at @HMAesq.



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