A Fair Solution to the Dreamers
Alaska lacks state policies to help its “Dreamers” in accessing higher education and workforce development.
There are 1.2 million young undocumented immigrants in the United States who entered the country while they were under the age of 16. They are the “Dreamers”. Only around a thousand of them live in Alaska. Next year, it will be ten years since, when President Barak Obama was president, the federal government implemented an immigration policy of assistance for them, known as DACA or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”
The DACA Program contemplated for the “Dreamers” economic, education, and job placement assistance. In 2017, it was suspended by Donald Trump. And with Joe Biden in the White House, the House of Representatives has passed a new Dream and Promise Bill, which would give these “Dreamers” access to U.S. citizenship. Now, it must be approved by the Senate.
A cruel legal limbo
Last July, psychologist Sara Buckingham, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage, was calling on Alaska Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to support this new law.
“Dreamers live in cruel legal limbo,” wrote Sara Buckingham in the Anchorage Daily News. “They must renew their visas every two years and any bureaucratic delay could make them vulnerable to deportation (...) Forcibly removing Dreamers from the only home they have ever known is unthinkable. I know of no Alaskan who would tolerate such an injustice. But Congress’ refusal to solve this problem becomes more shocking - and frankly absurd - as time goes on. By inaction, we are teaching our children that allowing a two-class society is acceptable.”
As a psychologist, Sara Buckingham has researched the “unbearable” psychological damage of living with the continual threat that they could be deported: “anxiety, depression, nightmares... Dreamers feel stuck, unable to move forward on such everyday issues as studying for college degrees, getting married or owning a home.”
Few protections in Alaska
Speaking to Sol de Medianoche —a newspaper she regularly reads “because I appreciate your work”— Sara Buckingham says that, by including a pathway to citizenship, “a lot of advocacy is needed” when debating the new Dream and Promise Act and its budget, to avoid amendments that would prevent or preclude such a pathway to citizenship.
“Unfortunately, there are few protections that the State of Alaska offers Dreamers specifically,” she tells us. “In Alaska, DACA recipients can obtain a state driver’s license and a work permit. But undocumented immigrants are excluded. There are no state policies related to Higher Education for Dreamers,” despite the fact that at least three thousand of its students are “first generation” immigrants (foreign-born who entered the USA, with or without valid documents) and five thousand more students at this educational level are “second generation” immigrants (born in the USA, but with at least one immigrant parent), which represents almost a third (28%) of the total number of students in Higher Education.
Anchorage, a “Welcoming City”
As for the city of Anchorage, “it aims to be a welcoming city for refugees and immigrants, including Dreamers,” says Buckingham. “Its approach is based on five pillars, including programs aimed at increasing access to economic opportunities. City services do not ask about immigration status when someone seeks services and City Hall does not engage in immigration enforcement.
- Is Alaska still a land of opportunity for immigrants, Hispanics, Asians and other ethnic or racial minorities?
There is no simple answer. It is a land of opportunity for some, no doubt. But many are excluded, due to exclusionary policies and challenges related to immigration and others that especially affect BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people, including the indigenous peoples on whose lands we are. There are many Alaskans, including immigrants and refugees, who are organizing and leading efforts to make our state more inclusive, with opportunities available to all.
- How has the change from the Trump Administration to the Biden Administration been noticeable in the treatment of the Dreamers?
It is up to Congress to create fair immigration policies that recognize the many benefits immigrants bring to the United States and the contributions that so many of our fellow immigrants already make in our communities. Immigrants, including Dreamers, are an integral part of our society. As seen, the judiciary has struck down portions of DACA as an executive order and therefore it is federal immigration reform that is needed from our legislative branch. Murkowski, Sullivan, and Young need to hear about why reform is needed and how all Alaskans are negatively affected by the lack of immigration reform.
- Is the situation in Anchorage better or worse than other cities? What do Alaska Dreamers need?
I can’t speak for any or all Dreamers, but I will say that research shows that while DACA is absolutely better than nothing (deportation and forced family separation have far-reaching deleterious impacts that extend far beyond individuals that are directly targeted to our entire communities), the uncertainty that comes along with a temporary program like DACA is detrimental to mental health and well-being. I have seen Anchorage itself try to do quite a bit to include and create opportunities for all members of its community. But ultimately what is needed is federal immigration reform. In my opinion, a path to citizenship for all undocumented members of the community, many of whom have been a part of our communities for much longer than I have as a person born in the United States, and who has lived in many different places. Cities can certainly work to become welcoming spaces and put policies in place to include all members of their community. But until our country has truly included Dreamers and other immigrants through its immigration policies, our communities will never be fully welcoming.