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Cascade Observations: Our dynamic ‘Dreamers’

DACA is an angry-sounding acronym that could be the name of a Cold War undercover spy operation. It actually stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era immigration program intended to protect the innocent and nurture the talents of children brought into the U.S.A as infants and toddlers. Young people who were accepted into the DACA program (estimated to be around 800,000 individuals) gained the ability to become employed or go to college without fear of deportation. It is not a free ticket to gain citizenship.

Now, years after these individuals first came to the United States as young children, and several years after they completed the copious amounts of DACA paperwork (thus coming out of the “undocumented” shadows), the program is being terminated by President Trump. In applying for DACA, these young people had to reveal all sorts of private, personal information. Now they are at risk of being deported to countries they hardly know.

As an elementary school teacher of Mexican-American children, I was one of those adults who encouraged my students to apply for DACA status when it first became available. In my naiveté, I assured my students that they would be safe. I wrote letters on their behalves, testifying that they were productive, law abiding individuals with hopes and dreams.

Some of those dreams have already come true. A lot of my students who enrolled in the DACA program are now attending college. Others have landed meaningful jobs. Many CEOs of American companies, including Microsoft and Google, support the DACA program. They suggest that DACA is the number one issue that Congress should address, more important than tax reform. Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said, “As a nation of immigrants, we have a moral responsibility to support and defend ‘Dreamers’ who arrived to this country — at the average age of six — through no fault of their own. These individuals have already become dynamic contributors to our American economy and play an important role in our communities.” But while we wait for politicians to address the president’s decision, young people live in fear.

Hood River County School District’s Superintendent Dan Goldman, in a recent speech, made a point of declaring that keeping students safe, whether it’s due to their religion, sexual orientation, skin color or immigration status, is not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. He said, “Empathy and humanity are absolutely apolitical — no political party owns or scorns the ideals of humanity and love for one another.” He went on to tell the educators, “You have the professional ability, the emotional competence, and the general capacity to take on injustice … and to facilitate the absolutely necessary teaching of empathy and humanity in your daily practice.”

I am no longer employed as a teacher, but still interact with students for special projects and as a substitute. In those roles, I am required each year to watch two hours of training videos: Blood Borne Pathogens, Mandates for Reporting Child Abuse, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Conduct, and Bullying. They all require me to be a diligent care giver, with antennae tuned in to all kinds of misconduct and danger; I must learn how to clean a wound, analyze a bruise, and spot a bully.

I’ve been thinking about bullies a lot lately, and what causes them to lack empathy and the ability to be kind to others. I recently finished reading a book about Christian Longo, the Oregon dad who killed his wife and three children, then escaped to the beaches of Mexico with a new identity. He was eventually caught and convicted. The author, Michael Finkel, spent months interviewing Longo and analyzing Longo’s motivation to commit such a heinous crime. After speaking with psychologists about Longo’s curious lack of empathy, Finkel was directed to the DSM-IV, a book that describes all kinds of psychological diagnoses, to learn about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A person with NPD “often has a grandiose sense of self-importance, is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, and can display extreme reactivity to criticism or failure. Such a person … may compare themselves favorably with famous or privileged people.” The description stunned me, as it identified traits I attribute to our current president. I can search for bullies in the halls of a school, but they may also be lurking in the halls of a White House.

I returned once again to Dan Goldman’s wise words. “I am begging you to explore how you elevate the voices of the traditionally oppressed in your classes, to moderate the dominant narrative, and to address empathy and humanity directly and daily. Easy to say, hard to do.”

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