Dear President Trump,
The difference between myself and several of my friends is only a few years, a few miles and a few numbers.
By years: My parents migrated to the U.S. in the mid to late 1970s when it was simple to secure work authorization and a social security number, especially if you worked for the airlines in the Bahamas, as my dad did. He just walked into the immigration office and signed up for a social security number.
By miles: I live in a city that is just 689 miles from Haiti, 200 miles from Cuba, and only 50 miles from the Bahamas. So close in proximity yet far enough for certain dreams to be deferred.
By numbers: My social starts with 59. This indicates that I was born in Florida. At times, I wish I could lend my friends these numbers to alleviate, if just for a day, their feelings of fear, dread, and uncertainty.
President Trump, my friends, my colleagues, my interns, and my students are not much different from myself. They are smart, funny, educated, civil, hard-working and they are just as American. We share similar values. Such as the Christian faith, a hunger for higher education, a spirit of entrepreneurship, and a desire to change the world for the better.
Yet, President Trump, under your administration you have continued to create more anxiety for those who have filed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — even after the news of the Supreme Court decision.
Mr. President, for years, my high-achieving students and friends languished in low-level jobs and outside the walls of colleges they couldn’t afford.
When DACA was made available, it gave these precious people with intellect and specialized skills — the kind that they developed and perfected living in this wonderful country — a new lease on life.
Yet, I still remember that day in 2017 when you announced your plan to end the DACA program.
I received a panicked phone call from a former employee of mine, the brightest and hardest working talent who had ever walked through our doors. She started as an intern, became an editorial assistant with us, then a PR assistant, and finally left after a few years to obtain a job at a New York PR agency.
When she came to me several years ago, I immediately knew she was an asset to our company and when she admitted to me that she was an undocumented student, I was surprised at all that she had achieved in the country with such an impediment.
I have some insight I’d like to share, Mr. President.
She was one of the many DACA youth who had come to the U.S. before she was 16 years old, had continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007; graduated high school with honors, and was never convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor, for that matter. She was a model student, neighbor, and friend.
DACA was that simple recipe for success — it was that clear path needed in the wilderness. The aforementioned was the general criteria to apply for DACA and it was working.
However, even after the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, found your administration’s move to wind down the Obama-era program for Dreamers lacked a sound legal basis, you continue to dash these young people’s dreams.
You have determined that you will not accept new DACA applications and you will plan to limit renewals to only one year instead of the two years, as was standard.
But, Mr. President, had you ever considered why the DACA criteria produces and motivates such young people like my former employee?
It’s not a coincidence. These young people think like, talk like, dress like, and move like the best American citizens because they rubbed shoulders with the most high-achieving Americans at their schools. Yet, their immigration statuses have caused them to always hope against hope, pushing them to surpass many of those high-achieving American friends.
The truth is, one should never underestimate what hope can do to the human spirit. It can spur you on to achieve the impossible. It is that “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of unseen things.”
It is the story of the immigrants that built this country from the ground up, as I wrote about in my book HOLA AMERICA: Guts, Grit, Grind and Further Traits of the Successful American Immigrant.
Regardless of a hazy future and your talk of a merit-based immigration system, these young people have done all the right things. I, for one, would never be advocating for their stay if they had not.
They charmed their teachers and guidance counselors. They were voted by their fellow students to become student council presidents. They became school valedictorians. They were college ambassadors. They are church leaders. And, because of DACA, they are now working professionals. They are now married with kids. They are shaping the next generation with some of the same steel that got them through all these years. In fact, my former employee — an inaugural DACA recipient — just bought her first condo.
She, like so many other DACA-holders, stick out as 20 and 30-somethings. Just ask the fellow Americans who have had the pleasure to work with, study with, worship with, and be friends with them. Our jobs, schools, churches, and cities wouldn’t be the same without the contributions of these 800,000 young people.
The reason the Obama administration chose to deploy DACA by executive branch memorandum — despite the fact Congress affirmatively rejected such a program in the normal legislative process on multiple occasions — was because of the tremendous value that this type of human being, this type of “American” could bring to the workforce and the economy.
I know firsthand as I have taught DACA students and I’ve worked alongside H1-B workers. I can tell you the truth. Our economy is better for it.
One of the most difficult truths I confronted when speaking to the young lady who called me on the day of your 2017 announcement was this: “Even if my company fires me, they’re not going to find an American to do what I do. They’re not qualified.”
Those words assaulted me at first but then I began to understand. If she’s more qualified than her contemporaries, it would behoove us to create a pathway to citizenship for her.
And if these new dreamers are anything like my former employee (and I know they are), we’re going to the top with them. So, why not take them and her with us?
Tiffani Knowles is the managing editor and founder of NEWD Magazine. Her hope is to become as "newd" as possible on a daily by embracing truth, authenticity and socio-spiritual awareness. She is bi-vocational as she is the owner of two businesses and a professor of communication at Barry University in Miami, Florida. She is also the co-author of HOLA America: Guts, Grit, Grind and Further Traits in the Successful American Immigrant and the online course series by the same name.