Heinrich “Henry” Becker arrived in the United States in 1849, stepping off the passenger ship Hermann and claiming a new life for himself in Baltimore, Maryland. His family had lived in Prussia all their lives, but they embarked on a new path for themselves in America. His father, Friedrich Becker, brought his wife, Elizabeth, and their five children (including Heinrich) to United States. He worked as a tailor most of his life in Baltimore but frequently made trips back to Germany. Heinrich, by contrast, likely had odd jobs before settling in Ohio as an employee of an oil mill. He became a naturalized citizen in 1854 and lived the next six decades in Dayton, Ohio. He died in 1912.
His daughter, Catharine Baker, was born in 1864. She married Harvey Geyer in 1891 and lived in Dayton until around 1899, where she and her family moved to Peru, Indiana. It was here that Paul Richard Geyer was born. He later married Nira Amos and fathered approximately 4 children, of which my Grandfather, Henry William “Butch” Guyer, was born in 1938. Heinrich Baker, the Prussian immigrant and oil mill worker, is my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. His father, Friedrich, is my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather. I’m a proud descendent of German immigrants.
This is something I’ve reflected on a lot over the last few days. This week saw one of the most egregious decisions ever made by an American president: the rescinding of DACA, or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” This policy, started in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama, ensured that children of undocumented immigrants could stay in the country under a temporary permit. If they came to the US before they were 16, were in high school or completed high school, and had no criminal record, they could stay here under the DACA program. Over 800,000 people utilized DACA to stay in the US. The policy loosely came from a Congressional proposal called the DREAM Act, which would have been a permanent version of DACA that couldn’t be manipulated by executive overreach. Despite broad public support (69% in the latest PRRI poll), the program’s rescindment under the Trump Administration throws everything into uncertainty.
The Obama administration created DACA as a stop-gap measure, after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act in 2010. Some on the right, including the official line from the White House and the Justice Department, argued that DACA couldn’t withstand constitutional scrutiny. This is not as easy as they make it. The Supreme Court recently issued a split ruling (before Scalia’s replacement) on a similar program, but their differences were mostly based on procedural matters. As Drexel University law professor Anil Kalhan noted in an interview with Quartz, “The issue of constitutionality has never been resolved.” The article further debunks much of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ comments on rescinding DACA, specifically who qualifies and how the program actually works.
Now, we can set aside the legal issues here, which are complicated and unsettled, but we certainly need to discuss the moral nature of the Trump administration’s decision. This leaves the lives of 800,000 people in an worsened state of limbo than they were already in, causing unnecessary uncertainty to employment, schooling, and eventual paths to citizenship. These young people, who came here as children and know no other home, could be deported to a land they have a tangential connection to. It could split up families, dissolve communities, and hurt our economy. As former Microsoft head and philanthropist Bill Gates wrote on Facebook:
DREAMers represent the best instincts of this country and the tradition that the great experiment of the United States is made better by people from other places coming here to dedicate their talents and commitment to continuing to move our country forward.
Corporate leaders, especially from silicon valley, strongly criticized the president’s decision this week. In fact, CEOs from across the corporate spectrum sent a letter to President Trump and Congressional leaders urging the passage of the DREAM Act and the continuation of DACA.
The strongest criticism of Trump’s actions came from his predecessor, Barack Obama. On Tuesday, the former President published an essay on his Facebook that unpacked the real reason for this decision:
Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us.
He’s right. President Trump made this decision to appeal to the xenophobic, and frankly anti-immigrant, wing of his dwindling political base. This was never about the DREAMers; it was about reversing a policy that made our country more diverse simply to placate a minority of extreme conservatives whose views clashed with the majority of Americans.
As a counter to this horrendous view of America, Obama outlined a better path in the closing of his remarks:
What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far. That’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.
With that in mind, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your Senators and Congresspeople. Tell them to pass the DREAM Act once and for all, so that these people can stay here, work hard, get ahead, and become the Americans they deserve to be. I’ll even give you an easy way to do it. Text “RESIST” to 50409. Give them your name, zip code, and a short message letting them know you support DACA and the DREAMers.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a story. Last year, my former home town of Kokomo, Indiana was hit by a tornado. It touched down near a local Starbucks, leveling it to the ground. Fortunately for everyone, no one was hurt, and that was in no small measure to the manager on duty, Angel Ramos. He rushed everyone to the bathroom and saved them from the building’s collapse. His valiant efforts made him a local hero; they call him the “Starbucks Angel.” He was even commended for his actions by Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz. He’s recently married and has a new job in construction, “helping rebuild Kokomo.”
Angel is also a DREAMer. He came here from Mexico with his family when he was nine years old. He became a DACA recipient four years ago, and in that time, he has been able to build a great life for himself here in the US. However, with the rescinding of DACA, he faces uncertainty again. This is something I’m not sure the Trump administration understands. Every time they make a policy move like this, they seem to disregard the very human toll it has. And all of it comes from playing petty partisan politics with people who can’t easily fight back.
It’s characteristic of a bully, someone who thinks they’re strong when they’re actually backed in a corner. In a presidency mired in scandal, comfort with white supremacy, and organizational disarray, this “policy move” is another distraction from the very problems this President has. His lashing out turns into real a hardship for people like Angel, his younger sister, and the 800,000 people helped by the DACA program. As Ramos said in a recent interview, “We’re just trying to come here for a better life. So it’s frustrating… just to see everything kind of start going backwards in a very intolerant and prejudice[d] way.”
He’s right. This isn’t good policy or good politics; it’s just prejudice. The hope is that the DREAM Act will get passed and DACA will be extended, but for now, it’s up to all of us to defend the DREAMers. People come to America for opportunity, freedom, and the chance to build a better life. It’s what brought Angel and his family here and what brought my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Heinrich and his family here. Citizenship is not based simply on where you’re from; it’s about who you are and what you do when you’re here. We’re all Americans united under the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Extending the blessings of liberty to all people strengthens our country, not weakens it. To ensure the promise of our nation, we must stand by the DREAMers and their pursuit of their dream.