How Dismantling DACA is Psychological Terrorism

Last November, I was heading out of town the day after it was announced that Trump had won the election.  As I boarded my flight to Savannah, a friend and colleague at the time texted me a photo from the school where we worked.  I was surprised to see the picture that came through to my phone just as I was being directed to turn it off by flight staff.  It was a girl, crying hysterically, in her teacher's lap as her fearful classmates looked on, some with tears in their own eyes.  She was seven years old.  While the photo still needed some explanation, I knew instantly that it had something to do with the previous night's election results. I texted my friend a quick "WTF?" and her response was simple: "She's afraid that Trump will deport her and her family."

One of the second grade teachers noticed a group of students had come into school anxious and fearful, and looking as though they were in need of a good night's sleep, and decided to let the kids talk about what was on their minds and have a kind of "free morning meeting."  That was when the dams burst and my friend took the photo that she sent me, no caption, no context, just a photo. And it spoke volumes.

Before I left town, staff were briefed that morning about providing space for students to talk about what they may have seen or overheard at home or on the news on election night.  These were mostly elementary school students we're talking about here, grades K through 8, with less than a third of the student body falling into those upper, middle school grades.  Oh, and four Pre-K classes, but there was very little political discussion taking place in those classrooms.  It was all sharing, hugs, snacks, and naps.  It was my favorite place to visit on a rough day. The school itself was situated in a progressive pocket of the city and had a very diverse student and parent/family population.  It was clear to the leadership team that people, including the kids, would want to talk about the election and what was on the horizon, and that it was necessary to give people that freedom and provide support and structure for people to do so.

Most staff thought that more space and discussion would need to take place in the upper grades, but the lower school teachers prepared for students to express anger or sadness, assuming that they would be mimicking what they overheard their parents and loved ones say. Some teachers had already witnessed it in the classroom during the campaign leading up to the election. However, no one believed that these little tiny minds would be working overtime to process all that they had seen, heard, and felt throughout 2016.  No one thought that they would have their own, personally developed, deeply held and felt beliefs about what was going on in the nation.

Well, we were wrong.

What we saw the day after the election were children of all ages, races, ethnicities, nationalities, creeds, and religions, with a lot of feelings, thoughts and emotions about what the "adults" of the nation had saddled them with for at least the next four years.  These kids, many of whom were still years away from learning how the government and democracy work, felt afraid for the future.  And, trust me, there is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a classroom full of children, who should be excited and optimistic about all that the future has to offer them, express great trepidation about what is on the metaphorical horizon. The little girl in that photo, and many of the students in the school, were genuinely afraid of what a seemingly xenophobic, sexist, all around mean-spirited bully would bring to the white house and the everyday lives of people in this nation.  And no group exhibited greater fear than our kids of Central and South American heritage.

That fear came closer to realization today.

About 20% of the school that I worked in was Latino.  Many of the parents and family members that entered the school on a daily basis to conduct business related to their little one's enrollment, attendance, health records, excuse notes, you know...the usual school-related paperwork...spoke little or no English.  We had students enroll throughout the year who were just coming from another country themselves.  There were about 20-30 students who did not speak English themselves and were immersed in English speaking classes with only a couple of hours of ESL support a day. Why we thought that Trump's rhetoric about the rule of law, law and order, Spanish-speaking thugs and criminals, and building a wall would NOT affect our students, even the little ones, seems delusional now in hindsight.

This student was visibly stressed.  The same type of stress experienced by many students around the US, who are undocumented as a result of having entered the country illegally with their parents.  Even for our documented students who are US citizens because they were born here, they still carry around a great deal of fear at the threat that their parents or grandparents or aunts, uncles, cousins, or siblings may be deported.  What kind of life are we asking children and young people to live, simply because they do not have a nine digit number?

It. Is. Terrorism.

Creating a reality under which immigrants lived in constant fear is what Sheriff Joe Arpaio accomplished in Arizona. His actions and consistent practice of arresting and detaining anyone who looked like an immigrant and illegally deporting people made residents of Maricopa County hostages.  Just a week after pardoning Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court in July for continuing his "immigrant roundups" and illegally detaining people with no reasonable suspicion of a crime, Trump has decided to eliminate the one path toward legally living and working in the US for undocumented youth.

Trump's actions say to me that he is supportive of criminalizing simply being Latino in this country.

His support of Arpaio shows that he is willing to justify illegal, unconstitutional means if it ends with fewer and fewer immigrants in the country. Documented or not.

Trump's decision to support a "wind-down" of DACA shows that he is not interested in supporting a short- or long-term solution to give even the most vulnerable and least culpable undocumented immigrants a shot at normalcy, let alone citizenship.

And that is all that the DREAMers want, really. Normalcy.  The ability to lead a normal life by going to school free of the fear that they might be rounded up and sent to a foreign land.

Literally..."rounded up."  The Joe Arpaio's of this country are unabashed in the language that they use to discuss how they dole out their form of vigilante "patriotism."  And here remains Trump, playing to his base.  Undoing the Obama legacy and destroying anything that could be seen as an improvement in the civil liberties of minorities.  His legacy is one of racism and exclusion. And terrorism.

Trump is opening the gates to extremism and terror.  While he claims that this is going to force Congress to finally act on immigration, never forget that he also once claimed that Washington was dysfunctional and unable to make the change that he would usher into town as POTUS.  He is the biggest hypocrite to do away with DACA and punt the ball to Congress, who will no doubt do nothing to advance meaningful, high functioning immigration law.

Do not get it twisted...Trump's decision to phase out DACA is about undoing Obama's legacy to the nation, stirring up and maintaining the support of his base, and rolling back the advancements achieved by minority groups.  It is about nothing else. It is not about safety or security. It is not about rule of law.  It is not about law and order.  It is about the three things that I have laid out, and nothing more.

Stay woke.


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