“Charity begins at home and justice begins next door,” Charles Dickens wrote in his 1843 novel, Martin Chuzzlewit.
On Tuesday, Trump began to wind down the DACA program (which stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”), expecting Congress to step in with a legal solution by March for the 800,000+ Americans that it protects. The DACA program allows the children of undocumented immigrants, those children who have grown up in the US known as DREAMers (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), to remain and work there.
Crucially, the Americans registered under this program have voluntarily put their names on the register — because they were promised they would be looked after. The heartbreaking reality is that despite Trump’s indication that enforcement officials will still prioritize other undocumented immigrants, these Americans are no longer protected. Those whose DACA status expires before March will be illegal immigrants subject to deportation unless they apply for an extension by October 5th. Of course March is not that far away, and there doesn’t appear to be a further plan for any of them if Congress fails to act by then. In one fell swoop, their immediate future is in undeniable question.
The only characteristic of DREAMers that makes this group of Americans deport-able is a legal definition of citizenship which is, in Obama’s own words, simply cruel. I refer to them as Americans because that is what they are. If the DREAMers are not American, then the only remaining definition of “American” is a legal one, subject to change at the whim of congress or the judiciary. Culture, upbringing, values — none of those things matter in that black and white definition. “American” will simply be a geographical note on an untouchable document generated at your birth. God forbid it should be lost, for what then would become of you? Statelessness, as I’ve written about here before, is a very real and very scary possibility, which tends to affect the most vulnerable people such as women and children.
Almost simultaneously and in a similar fashion, the Brexit government in the UK leaked a document outlining how they will limit EU immigration from the moment that Brexit takes effect. Not only do the policies outlined in the document aggressively restrict incoming EU arrivals, but it also puts the lives of some 3.3 million existing EU citizens, including 600,000 children, in disarray.
First and foremost, it requires that existing EU migrants apply for future residency, what the document refers to as “settled status”. Millions of people have their futures in question.It doesn’t matter if you’ve been there two minutes or 22 years, if you are an EU migrant in the UK, you’ve just been reminded that this is not your home.
While it might be easy to solely focus our outrage on the xenophobic or racist nature of both parallel actions, we should also pay attention to the deeper implications of these policies. At threat is how we define ourselves. If a citizen, the participating resident of a country, can only be defined by birth, then our own rights to participate are more narrowly set by the geographical boundaries of our birth, until a lawyer can tell us otherwise. The word ‘American’ is meaningless, unless you try to leave, at which point it is only a restriction.
Forget who you think you are, forget what you call home. If an identity is only that — a legal definition — then maybe a home is only that — our physical location at a time we were too young to remember.
Sorry Charles, it seems that charity is homeless and justice will soon be deported along with all the other migrants.