WHOSE FAULT IS IT?
Using the phrase “no fault of their own” in discussing undocumented young people does not encourage us to look at the roots of the poverty and violence their families experience. Blaming undocumented youths’ parents avoids assigning responsibility for their displacement and migration beyond the families themselves.
When President Obama introduced his executive order in 2012 to defer deportation for young people (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA), the White House website said it would “stop punishing innocent young people brought to the country through no fault of their own by their parents.”
The phrase “no fault of their own” sounds sympathetic. Using it to justify halting deportations implies good intentions towards at least some young people without papers. Yet the idea has other troubling implications as well.
If young people came here “through no fault of their own,” then whose fault was it? Denham and Obama both say, “by their parents [and guardians].” Mothers and fathers made the decision to cross the border without papers. Therefore the parents are responsible for their children’s lack of legal immigration status. The fault is the parents’.
Children are not coming to the United States because they have bad parents. They come because poverty and violence make survival difficult and dangerous in their communities of origin. Many are joining family members who are already here, having fled Central American civil wars or having come to find work and establish a base for reuniting divided families.
Many of the young people who tell their stories in Dreams Deported, a new book edited by Kent Wong and Nancy Guarneros, describe the memory of the experience, as it is retold in their families. Vicky’s family in Mexico “was too poor to pay for her mother’s medication and Vicky couldn’t find a job to support her parents.” Renata Teodoro says, “My father had been working in the United States for many years, and we survived on the money he sent us.”
After the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, for instance, the number of Mexican migrants in the U.S. went from 4.5 to 12.5 million in 20 years. The new immigrants were farmers driven off the land after being undercut by cheap U.S.-subsidized corn flooding the Mexican market, or workers suddenly jobless after waves of privatization
The companies that dumped the corn in Oaxaca, and those that paid illegally low wages to Oaxacan farmers to pick strawberries in Watsonville, certainly share some of the “fault.” And they definitely reaped most of the benefits. But when Obama and Denham say children came through “no fault of their own,” they are not pointing at the profiteers, much less at the treaties and policies that make displacement and exploitation possible and profitable.
In reading the testimony of the young people in Dreams Deported, it’s clear that parents had little alternative to coming north, and bringing their children with them. Yet they are not victims. They are simply people struggling to survive and make a place in the world for their families. As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz says, in the context of Native American genocide in North America, “survival is dynamic, not passive. Surviving genocide, by whatever means, IS resistance.”
Sergio Sosa, a Guatemalan migrant who now directs Omaha’s Heartland Workers’ Center, says the same thing: “Mams and Qanjobales”-two indigenous groups in Guatemala-”face poverty and isolation, even the possible disappearance of their identity. But they didn’t choose this fate. People from Europe and the U.S. crossed our borders to come to Guatemala, and took over our land and economy. Migration is a form of fighting back. Now it’s our turn to cross borders.”
The DREAMers have shown that fighting detention and deportation is not only possible but the first step towards winning deeper changes. As they’ve marched and demonstrated, they’ve pointed out over and over that stopping the enforcement wave and changing immigration law are so connected that one can’t be fought without fighting for the other. In the end, the basic requirement for both is the same: a social movement of millions of people, willing to take to the streets and the halls of Congress.
East Bay youth activists protest the incarceration of mothers and children from Central America.
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