Opinion: The Importance of Seeking Joy in a Post-DACA Country

The author, irritated while walking down the front steps of the Supreme Court of the United States, on Nov. 2, 2019, ten days before the court began hearing arguments regarding efforts to end the DACA program (Photo illustration by Mauricio Perez Garcia).

In the coming months, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Houston is expected to issue a final ruling on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for individuals who entered the U.S. before age 18 and have continually lived in the United States. Although many DACA recipients, allies and other undocumented communities continue to advocate for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, DACA seems to be headed toward termination. For this reason, it is necessary to have conversations about what a “post-DACA” world looks like for us, the so-called “Dreamers.”

Background Information to DACA’s Legal Battles

In 2021, Hanen ruled that the decade-old DACA program was unlawful, but allowed the program to remain after advocates appealed his ruling. That being said, the Fifth U.S. Circuit of Appeals upheld Hanen’s ruling in Oct. of 2022 and sent the case back to him to review the recent updates that the Biden administration had made to the program.

Although the recent updates seek to place legal protections and fortify the DACA program, Hanen is expected to announce its termination. United We Dream, the largest youth-led immigrant network in the U.S., posted an Instagram post reacting to the decision to return the case back to Hanen.

“DACA is dying,” said the post. “He’s tried to fully end DACA before, and has already shown opposition to the new DACA rule – we must be ready for the official end of DACA.”

Arguing for a Revolutionary Undocumented Resilience Centered in Joy

As a DACA recipient myself, witnessing the “death” of the program has brought a self-inflicted phase of questioning and searching for belonging. What does undocumented advocacy and resilience look like in a post-DACA world?

Through the DACA program, I have been given the opportunity to openly hide from the persecution of so-called “illegals” – my family and community – in the U.S. Although I am still classified as undocumented, DACA has granted me both temporary protection from deportation and the authorization to legally work in the country.

Recognizing this privilege, I entered Albion College with an urgency to explore my fragmented identities.

This urgency primarily led to me becoming a vocal student advocate who fought for the recognition and rights of DACAmented and undocumented students alike. I was a self-identified “storyteller,” chronicling the struggles and aches that our undocumented bodies experienced.

This kind of advocacy helped me develop the needed confidence to openly discuss our shared undocumented victimhood and the collective needs of our DACAmented and undocumented students on campus. However, this kind of advocacy instilled in me a fixation on perceiving undocumented bodies and my own body, solely through subordinated narratives – as victimized bodies.

My understanding of the “undocumented” status has remained enclosed in language that constantly reminds me of our oppressed conditions, always using “merit” to defend and plead for my belonging. I have focused on arguing for the very right to exist and live my life to a point where I do not know what living is besides arguing.

This kind of advocacy is not sustainable.

Yes, it is necessary to discuss our oppressive conditions in order to identify and fight against the systems that propagate said oppressions. However, we cannot allow these narratives to fully define our existence. Otherwise, we will remain imprisoned in an oppressed body and mind.

Resilience will remain an illusion that clothes our undocumented bodies if we do not allow our minds to be healed and be healers themselves. Our undocumented bodies have names and autonomy too.

Dr. Alan Pelaez Lopez is an Afro-indigenous Mexican scholar and writer who has lived in the U.S. as a formerly undocumented immigrant. In their manifesto titled “An Artist Manifesto: For Brown Folx Surviving the Empire,” Lopez argues for the need of art in the revolutionary resilience of marginalized communities, especially in our undocumented communities. 

“Resistance must no longer look like survival; we must live in order to resist,” Lopez said at a reading of their manifesto. “It seems that our lives are taken away more than they are celebrated.” 

Art in any form can allow us to regain the human aspects that our oppressed narratives and systems neglect to recognize within ourselves: joy. 

 “We will need DJs to meet to remix our drum beat when we feel that we are alone in the world,” Lopez said, recognizing how art can be a facilitator for resilience. “When we think we can no longer resist, we will need dancers to show us how to regain the movement and power of our imaginations.” 

Resilience without joy is unsustainable. 

Oppressed narratives and systems will continue to be transferred over the next generations of undocumented folx, so long as the term “illegal” exists. We must work to create a counter-narrative that reminds our present and future undocumented folx of their validity in just existing – of their humanity. 

The DACA program did not come from an administrative desire to help us. Instead, it came from the many undocumented folx and allies who risked their livelihood and went outside the shadows to demand change and dignity.

It’s impressive to be “living” in spaces that are purposefully hostile; it’s more revolutionary, I’d argue, to live happily inside these spaces.

The potential termination of the DACA program can place us back into the shadows. However, it will be our own ability to find joy, much like the rest of our undocumented communities who have never reaped the benefit of this program, that will keep our revolutionary resistance alive. 

Our advocacy in a post-DACA world, as we grapple with systems of oppression, will need to nurture our joy and humanity. It is the only way our bones will retain their strength when marching through either the streets or shadows of this country. 

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