Opinion: DACA recipients have lived in the shadows for far too long

Santa Clara County’s history is of diverse people coming together to create community

Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee believes that Congress Congress must act expeditiously and pave an equitable path to citizenship for all DACA recipients. 

By Otto Lee, Mario B. Lopez and Kevin Lee |
PUBLISHED: Mercury News April 7, 2021

DACA recipients and millions of hardworking immigrants across America have lived in the shadows for far too long. Hope springs anew with the House passing HR 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, but ...

Not since a bipartisan Congress overwhelmingly passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 have we gotten close to addressing the American immigrant experience. The Biden administration’s executive orders are a good start; but we need the Senate to act on HR 6. Too many lives and futures are on the line. At the end of the day, what matters is not how we got here but how we live and contribute to strengthen America’s future.

I am an immigrant. I know how unfathomable some of the horrors that we witness are, but I also know they were inevitable. For too long, leadership from all sides has failed to address immigration and citizenship matters. This has led to the anger, demonization and unacceptable conditions that immigrants, their families and entire communities, most recently the AAPI community, continue to face.

In 1982, my family fled Hong Kong from communism to California to seek freedom and a better future. Leaving one’s homeland to rebuild a new life in a new country is never easy.

Our county’s history is of diverse people coming together to create community. Despite our struggles, we stand as one of the brightest beacons of inclusion, diversity, participation and unity. Immigration policy has a real impact here, especially for DACA recipients (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), also known as “DREAMers.”

DREAMers and immigrants are around us every day. Like our DREAMers, I arrived here as a child, and that is why I don’t want to see them trapped in a constant nightmare anymore.

Two members of our district staff, Mario B. Lopez and Kevin Lee, are DREAMers. Both are dedicated county employees proudly serving our community. Mario’s and Kevin’s immigration stories are starkly different, yet they share with another 800,000 “DACAmented” immigrants an unrelenting uncertainty, despite truly being 100% American.

Kevin arrived when he was five under a family visa. When his parents began the legal path to residency, they became victims of immigration fraud, which cost them much of their savings. It was not until high school that Kevin became aware of the complex issues surrounding his immigration status. He lost his legal status after graduating high school before President Obama signed the executive order on DACA.

Also, at age five, Mario and his mother, Lourdes, arrived from Mexico and settled in East Los Angeles. Mario’s aunt had obtained citizenship in 1986 and filed a Legal Permanent Residency petition on their behalf. This year, 2021, marks 20 years since their petition was filed. Both remain without legal status.

Besides sharing our immigrant experience, Kevin, Mario and I are all UC Berkeley graduates — except the one big difference was that I received a green card.

Decades of inequitable policies have created far too many stories like these. Compounded by more red tape and the distractions of political rhetoric, many DACA recipients may never be able to become citizens of the only home they have ever known. Mario’s and Kevin’s stories are only two of countless journeys to this country that reflect the diversity within the immigrant experience and the unjust complexities and nuances of U.S. immigration law. Their stories further underscore the imperative for comprehensive immigration reform once and for all.

As a nation of immigrants, we must do right to those who have suffered the most, while also giving the most during this pandemic. For our ancestors and for our future, Congress must act expeditiously and pave an equitable path to citizenship for all, especially those who have lingered in the shadows for decades.

Otto Lee represents District 3 on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Mario B. Lopez and Kevin Lee are members of Lee’s staff

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