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Two Years to Live the Dream is Not Enough: A Brief Reflection on What’s Happened and What’s Next for Tech and DACA-mented Leaders Working Together Towards Immigration Reform

Having just celebrated Immigrant Heritage Month and our nation’s independence, it is imperative we think about our fellow Americans who continue to be denied the ability to be acknowledged as significant members of our citizenry.

With the passing of comprehensive immigration reform remaining at a standstill, our government’s delay in enacting long overdue policy keeps alive the unfortunate reality of millions of immigrants who reside, study, work, and contribute in the United States spending their everyday lives in inevitable limbo and in constant fear of facing eventual deportation. The past few years, however, show a promising alliance between tech leaders and DREAMers that could be the key to advancing the movement for CIR. Although critics may be baffled at, put down, or underestimate the power of this unexpected partnership, it serves all parties involved an important reminder: Comprehensive immigration reform is not just a battle to provide equal rights and a path to citizenship to those who have waited and perhaps even worked to earn it for years. It is also truly a missing substantial component to our American society that plants and encourages in all its residents – the documented, undocumented, and yet-to-be-documented – the enticing goal of fully attaining the American dream only to later find that we have fallen short in our promise.

This month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a report noting so far a total of 610,694 accepted DACA requests. The policy on the table is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), realized June 15, 2012 through an executive order made by U.S. President Barack Obama that ensured deferring the deportation of undocumented youth who fit certain qualifications (such as coming to the United States as children and having pursued education or military service here) as well as enabling these young people to apply for a Social Security Number and employment authorization to fully contribute to our economy and society. All while subject to a two-year renewal application process and under the catch that the status can be revoked at any time, having the DACA-mented face the mentality of possibly only having “two years to live the [American] dream” and placing the rest of us continually also at risk of wasting these fellow Americans’ potential and losing an unprecedented amount of talent the tech community and our nation at large could further benefit from and compete in the global arena with. It has been two years since over 600,000 lives were availed of the opportunity to soon change for the better. It is worth reflecting on these numbers because it reminds us how much an impact a policy (or lack thereof) can make in determining the life paths of youth in this country. So while enforcing DACA was a very necessary and commendable move our nation has finally taken to progress, it is still but one of many temporary fixes to a large-scale issue that calls for long-term systemic change.

Great things happen when the tech and DREAMer communities stand side by side and come up with solutions. This was made evident last year when the White House held a Fireside Hangout where they got leaders from tech and the DREAMer communities together in one room so-to-speak to share their perspectives with the public and, essentially, with one another. Stronger investment results from including and recognizing both the tech and DREAMer communities as major stakeholders and equally devoted advocates in the dialogue and movement to pass comprehensive and humane immigration reform. Panelists who spoke on the hangout were award-winning actress and immigrant rights advocate America Herrera, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement Valerie Jarett, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Shervin Peshivar, and DefineAmerican founder Jose Antonio Vargas. Other tech leaders such as Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman have also joined the cause and expressed their concern in the economic costs of depriving immigrants a path to citizenship or at least a path to permanent work authorization. This means making sure we realize the DREAM Act and permanent work authorization and recognition of citizenship through DACA as much as we do the STEM Jobs Act and any other initiatives that resolve our nation’s need for reform. If our nation and our tech companies are serious about staying competitive and innovative, we need to open our doors to, cultivate, and retain as much talent as possible from this pool.

In the meantime, here’s to the undocumented youth who find a sense of pride and show value in their hard work and dedication. Tech leaders can continue to help provide equal access and opportunity to education and other opportunities through securing funds from private sources to provide scholarships for undocumented youth and to teach tech skills that improve the chances of undocumented youth attaining decent employment, mentorship, and a newfound digital literacy and capacity to build new dreams and new technologies. That’s what was so wonderful the time when grassroots activism-oriented group FWD.us launched the #BuiltByImmigrants project or when Lauren Powell Jobs, wife of late Apple founder Steve Jobs, teamed up with “Waiting for Superman” director Davis Guggenheim and produced the compelling campaign and documentary “The Dream is Now”well-strategized actions aimed at diminishing the invisibility and misrepresentation of immigrants revive and spread the all-too-often-forgotten understanding that our nation stands on the successes made by and because of immigrants and recounts the history of injustices and challenges they have (sought to) overcome. And if folks need an example of what DREAMers can build, they can also turn to the DREAMer Hackathon Facebook and LinkedIn hosted that touched on a new kind of civic hacking where participants prototyped and created possible apps to educate and engage users on the issue of our broken immigration system and to provide more resources to assist immigrants with their struggles. There is no limit to which technology with the proper knowledge and roadmap can be used in this movement as a platform for advocacy, storytelling, and change.

These DACA-mented youth are and have been willing to go to great lengths to give back and to earn the privilege of finally being recognized as a fellow American citizen. If there was anything we should’ve discovered since the passing of DACA and the mobilization of these communities to go after the ambitions they’ve put on hold for so long, it is that “two years to live the dream” is not enough. Think of all we and these youth have achieved in the past two years alone given the empowerment a nine-digit number has afforded them and despite the relatively little amount of privileges and resources they have been able to access. Then imagine how much more they would be able to produce and accomplish for themselves and for the world if they just had this empowerment their entire lifetime. That just may be what President Obama’s recent DACA White House Champions for Change are proving. That there is no sense holding back the positive momentum of more than 600,000 young people whose impact is surely amplified the more achievements and societal and economic contributions we give them the freedom and the opportunity to do.

A major part in finalizing your U.S. citizenship is when you are called to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and remember that powerful last line that we are “one Nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” What makes it powerful is that it signifies how we Americans hold a responsibility to believe and uphold that the rights we all should have should not be dictated by social class or circumstances of birth. We are all working towards a larger goal – to make a better future. There is a strength that comes with unity, something I urge our current representatives in Washington to continue to build. It’s a step in the right direction. Equality should be the most basic form of the American dream, and I envision that is something that ought to be reachable within our lifetimes.

Mia Jamili is an NYC-based digital projects and communications strategist with a multidisciplinary background in computing and new media, public policy, and international development. She currently serves as a member of the digital team for the United States Fund for UNICEF and has previously worked with various tech and interactive media companies and nonprofits including Salesforce, IDG Entertainment, and the Center for Effective Global Action. An entrepreneurial grad from UC Berkeley, Mia is a bright advocate for quality education for all and empowering and engaging youth through opportunities. Follow her on Twitter @miajamili.
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