The story seems incredible. A small group of undocumented young people has beaten the world’s most powerful man, Donald Trump, in the Supreme Court of the United States. It was a long battle and, in the end, it was decided by just one vote.
This is how they did it.
Their parents brought them to the United States as children, and at some point in their adolescence they realized they were undocumented. Far from remaining quiet, they embraced their identity and came out fighting. They wanted to be recognized as what they are, a part of the United States. The problem is that they needed a piece of paper to prove it.
They came, the majority of them, from poor and violent countries. They learned English, and faced the risk of being returned to countries they know nothing about. But they also learned that mantra of U.S. culture: If you try hard, you can achieve anything.
Like their parents, they were at constant risk of deportation. Since the 2001 terrorist attack, the United States has become increasingly hostile to foreigners. The adults learned to remain silent, to become almost invisible, to survive. But the Dreamers quickly rejected that culture of silence and replaced it with one of activism, vocal and rebellious. In plain English, “in your face.” Mexico-born Erika Andiola, for example, confronted then-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner while he had breakfast at a Washington cafeteria. “The first step is always to lose the fear,” Erika declared much later.
One group of four students started to walk from Miami to Washington on Jan. 1 2010 to protest the situation they faced. The risk was enormous. “It was the first time we did something like that,” Gaby Pacheco, born in Ecuador, told me years later. “But we were not going to be afraid any more.”
When the so-called Dream Act failed to pass in Congress, the only option was to persuade President Barack Obama to give them some sort of protected immigration status. That effort was joined by Lorella Praeli, a Peru native who lost a leg in an accident. “When I fell,” she told me in an interview for a book, “my father did not pick me up, and did not allow anyone to pick me up.” That perseverance, and the efforts of many others, helped push Obama to sign DACA in 2012. That executive order would potentially benefit more than one million Dreamers.
“When I started, we were a group of five. I never thought we would be thousands,” I was told some time ago by Cristina Jimenez, co-founder of United We Dream, the biggest Dreamer organization in the country. Born in Ecuador, Christina was part of the first group of undocumented students who went into the White House and asked President Obama to stop the deportations.
Yes, they were grateful to Obama for DACA, but their parents and siblings ran the risk of being deported. That spirit of solidarity – that we’re in this together – has characterized the Dreamers since before that first walk from Miami to Washington.
It is unjust to mention only Erika, Gaby, Lorella and Cristina in this column, because it was literally thousands of Dreamers who won that historic decision in the Supreme Court, which allows them, for now, to remain protected in the United States. But the fight is not over.
President Trump, in a Tweet full of spite, wrote, “These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.” If Trump had won, today there would be another 700,000 or so people at risk of deportation. In contrast, Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, has said he would send a proposal to Congress on his first day in the White House to permanently legalize the Dreamers. The election will be on Nov. 3
In the meantime, the biggest lesson of this historic ruling by the Supreme Court is that the first step is always to recognize fear, in order to overcome it later. When silence is not am option, marvelous things can happen.