Sunday, April 15, 2018

From Braceros to Temporary DACA Recipients

Guest blogger: Andrea Portillo, graduate student, University of San Francisco, Masters in Migration Studies

Much of my research has highlighted the importance policies like DACA, which have been extremely beneficial for the migrant community. However, the announcement of the phasing out of DACA under the Trump Administration in September 2017 not only sent a wave of panic into immigrant communities everywhere, but once again left us awaiting action from Congress—a Congress that has yet to make any successful attempt at saving DACA. The phasing out of DACA, the scapegoating of immigrants, and the general anti-migrant rhetoric are reminiscent of a similar discourse that was present during and leading up to the eventual termination of the Bracero Program (1964). A closer look at the parallels between both programs reveals several other similarities, including the economic focus of both programs, the temporariness and short-lived nature, the absence of a path to residency/citizenship, and the use of both programs as a deterrence for future migration.

The Bracero Programs economic focus stems from its role as an official guest worker program. While DACA was never categorized as a guest worker program, it has become very economic focused due in part to the official work authorization that recipients were also granted. Many of the studies that were conducted throughout the policy’s tenure focused on the economic benefits of the policy. Amidst the announcement of the termination of DACA, studies were also conducted estimating the economic impact that terminating DACA and potential removal of thousands of DACA recipients form the labor market would have on the economy and on the social service sector. While these studies are important because they show the economic impact of a policy like DACA, focusing only on the economic impact of the policy is dangerous; that approach reduces DACA recipients to numbers and continues to place value on them solely based on how they impact the country’s wealth.

Parallels can also be drawn between the temporariness of the Bracero Program and DACA. The fact that DACA was implemented as an executive action, under the Obama administration, made its future uncertain from the very beginning. DACA ran on a two-year cycle and those who applied would reapply for renewal at the end of those two years and wait to receive their new work authorization cards as well as their DACA extension. Having to reapply and pay renewal fees every two years made it difficult for many recipients to live “normal lives,” and there was always the possibility that DACA could be rescinded. Thus, recipients found themselves planning/ living their lives in two-year increments.

Today’s political climate surrounding Mexican migrants and the anti-migrant rhetoric that led to the elimination of DACA are extremely similar to the rhetoric of the past. The Trump administration, which ran its campaign with an extremely anti-migrant, anti-Mexican message, has taken advantage of the temporary and executive nature of the program and has shown just how deplorable/ deportable people are. DACA and its executive nature follows this infamous legacy of deplorability and deportability because of its “quick fix approach” once again, pushing thousands of recipients back into the shadows with little hope on what their future holds. Like the Bracero Program that was terminated as a result of scapegoating and resulted in mass deportations and raids, the inaction from Congress to save DACA has once again left thousands uncertain of their futures.  

The third trope from which we can draw parallels is in the lack of a path to residency/ citizenship for DACA recipients. Like the Bracero Program, that did not incorporate a path to “legal status” or citizenship, DACA too fell short in this regard. In the U.S., citizenship continues to be an extremely contentious concept as it is difficult (unbeneficial) for many, “to disassociate citizenship and the nation state and continues to be linked in the public consciousness with the nation state and its institutions.” (Bosniak 2000) While many debate who should have access to or should be able to acquire citizenship, many continue to view citizenship status as territorially-bounded to the nation-state. “When ‘citizenship’ is understood as formal legal membership in the polity, aliens remain outsiders to citizenship: they reside in the host country only at the host country’s discretion; there are often restrictions imposed on their travel; they are denied the right to participate politically at the national level; and they are often precluded from naturalizing.” (Bosniak 2000) The termination of DACA, like the termination of the Bracero Program, came as a result of the anti-migrant scapegoating that is often present when a country’s “values” and citizenship are threatened.

The fourth and final trope from which we can draw parallels is the factor of deterrence. The Bracero Program, which was implemented as a deterrence for “unauthorized” labor migrants, implemented criteria to ensure that those who participated in the program did so through legal means. “Braceros” who made their way to the U.S. did so on official contracts with employers. Therefore, by distinguishing (criminalizing) workers who made their way to the U.S. the “right” vs. the “wrong” way made it extremely difficult for those without official contracts to find employment. The elimination of the Bracero Program along with the mass raids and deportation of Mexicans both “authorized” and “unauthorized” served as deterrence, if not through the physical removal and barriers that were established, then through the fear of deportation that these raids sparked throughout the migrant community. Similar to the Bracero Program, those who could apply and benefit from DACA had to meet a specific set of criteria, as well as gather the required documentation, and pay a fee. The strict criteria, such as the age requirements of arrival, made DACA clearly not available to all undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. as children. The requirements serve as a deterrence because they exclude those who arrived after the age of sixteen, who were not present in the U.S. when the executive order was implemented, and who do not fit the “dreamer” narrative. The strict criteria for eligibility coupled with the extreme securitization of the border made unauthorized migration to the U.S. less favorable for many. While there has been no talk of deportation yet, for DACA recipients, the phasing out of the policy has also served as deterrence for future migration and “unauthorized” migration because there is no longer a policy that can protect individuals from deportation. As mentioned above mass raids and the threat of deportation has been used in the past as a tactic of control and of fear mongering.

The four tropes reveals a policy that comes up short for the migrant community—a community that continues to “prove” its allegiance and deserves better from a country that it continues to call home. DACA, while extremely beneficial for recipients and their families, continues in the legacy of the Bracero Program because of the economic focus of the policy. If we continue to view migrants as commodities and measure their success and value solely on their GDP impact, then countries will continue to use migrants as scapegoats--blaming them for economic turmoil, unemployment rates, and continuing to view migrants as numbers and trajectories and not as the human beings that they are. The temporality of DACA also contributes in upholding this legacy because the short-lived policy served to take advantage of the impacts of DACA without providing recipients with stability for their futures. The temporary and executive nature of the policy also contributed to the elimination of the policy and the overall deplorability of recipients from the perspective of critics. The lack of a path to residency and citizenship for DACA recipients now makes the deportability of the thousands of recipients extremely real, following the rescission of the policy announced in September. The thousands who were once protected from deportation, are now once again on high alert. And finally, DACA’s strict criteria and now its announced elimination have situated the policy along the legacy of the guest worker programs before it--programs that continue to fall short within the immigrant discourse.


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