Mariana likes “being busy. I like being organized. I’m good at time management.” She graduated from Portland State in June with a 3.7 GPA. After several internships, she now works for Portland city commissioner Nick Fish.
But when Donald Trump was elected president pledging to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals she found, “I would be doing my homework, and suddenly everything would go scattered. I got headaches. I would have nightmares.”
This is not how we should treat our kids.
Mariana Garcia Medina was brought here when she was three, and has lived nowhere else since then. Now she says, “I’m really proud of being from Tigard,” and nobody eager to proclaim that should be casually cast away.
She remembers being excited when President George W. Bush tried to achieve immigration reform, and then for years couldn’t watch news on the subject at all. When President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012, it meant she could get a driver’s license – a shorter-term driver’s license – and a work permit, meaning she could provide her family a steady income, along with being full-time at Portland State.
And when her grandmother and aunt had a medical emergency in Mexico, Garcia Medina was the only one who could go, under the program Advance Parole (now suspended). She wasn’t entirely certain she’d be allowed back into the United States, but she had faith in her lawyer, and besides, somebody had to go.
In Mexico for the first time since she was three, she quickly discovered something.
“I’ve never felt so foreign in a place,” she remembers. “I was considered a foreigner there, and it was true. I was a foreigner.”
Because she’s an Oregonian, one of more than 11,000 Oregon kids and young adults covered by the DACA program that President Trump just announced he would end in six months. Not all of them are quite like Garcia Medina, but by and large they now fit in Oregon more than in Oaxaca.
Like many proposals out of the Trump administration, the cancelling of DACA was both ringingly dramatic and completely incoherent. Nobody, including its most enthusiastic supporters, has any idea what it means.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announcing the change, endorsed “proper enforcement of the immigration laws,” presumably meaning that DACA people will no longer be protected from deportation and can no longer get work permits. He also supports the administration proposal to cut legal immigration in half.
President Trump, saying he “loves” and “has a big heart” for the DACA population, later said that it was all a plan to get Congress to protect them, and that if Congress didn’t he would return to the issue himself. Of course, relying on Congress to save you is a little like counting on the Great Pumpkin. Last Wednesday evening, Trump and Democratic congressional leaders said they’d reached an agreement for Congress to protect those covered by DACA, but it wasn’t clear what the agreement might be.
And Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, explained that Congress didn’t have to do anything, because DACA people could just continue to do what they’ve always done: “live in the shadows.”
You can imagine the reassurance.
“It feels like they’re playing us like a football,” says Garcia Medina, “that we’re just being tossed around. There’s always that uncertainty, that fear at the back of your head.”
Other Americans shouldn’t feel reassured either. Immigrants, especially young, working immigrants, are essential ingredients in more than the melting pot.
Americans are living longer and having fewer children, being too busy playing video games and posting to Facebook. In 2005, calculates the Social Security Administration, 12 percent of Americans were over 65; in 2040, the number will be 20 percent. In 2005, there were 3.3 working Americans for every one collecting Social Security; in 2040, there will be only 2.1 workers per check receiver.
Unless each of those workers will be working 50 percent harder, this will be a problem. And just one things keeps it from being even worse.
“Because immigrants tend to be younger and have higher fertility rates than the general population, immigration mitigates the aging of the population,” projects the SSA. “Without immigration the aging trend would be more pronounced.”
In an American population already demographically top-heavy, rapidly turning grayer than cigar ash, to consider throwing out 800,000 young adults, and all the others who might be on an exit list, is not only wrong but massively – and mathematically – self-destructive.
Mariana Garcia Medina is not only an American kid – and an Oregon kid – with a glowing future who knows no other country and has done nothing wrong.
I’m also counting on her to pay for my Social Security.
NOTE:This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 9/17/17.