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Hispanic Heritage Month

By Cynthia Tobin
South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States; the country that is founded on immigrants. Every culture is beautiful and I’m so amazed when I learn about the amazing contributions that Hispanic culture has brought to this wonderful country. I am the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants. My father was born in Nancita and my mother was born in a town in Chiquimulilla. My father came to the U.S. to escape certain death in Guatemala’s civil war against the guerilla. He moved to California with what he could carry on his back. My mother moved to California, striving for the American dream, to provide for her son/my brother.

We are Hispanic but we do have privilege. My parents and I had documentation. I went to college and graduate school. I have a good job making a difference at a South Dakota statewide agency, The Network, which improves domestic violence and sexual assault legislation;  I write grants to help others, create awareness activities, and provide training to those who have been oppressed. I am privileged compared to others. There are other Hispanics and Latinos that have to go through additional barriers.  Members of the Hispanic population without documentation are scared about their every move. They can’t get driver’s licenses. They can’t speak up if something wrong happens at their jobs.  Calling for help from law enforcement is far from relieving. These individuals have come to the U.S. to work hard to achieve a better life. It is no different from the colonies that fled England, why is it hard to support others who doing the same? Allies such as Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch have worked to help undocumented immigrants.

In 2001, legislators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch sponsored the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM). The DREAM act proposed to help qualify undocumented minors in the US granting conditional residency and, upon meeting further qualification, permanent residency. The bill was reintroduced in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011 but failed. In 2012, President Obama ceased deportation of undocumented immigrants who qualified in the proposed DREAM act.  On August 15, 2012, U.S. citizenship and immigration services began accepting applications under the Obama administration’s new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Now in 2017, President Trump wants to revoke DACA status from 740,000 young individuals. These young individuals are contributing members of our society. They are paralegals, teachers, public health workers, legislative pool analysts, business owners, biomedical informatics, peacebuilding policy specialists, civil engineers, and much more.  In 2007, military leaders embraced the bill as a means for boosting recruitment. Because of DACA, 900 DREAMers are currently serving in the US military. Dick Durbin (D-IL) recommended quick passage of the DREAM Act. If DACA is cut, the U.S. economy would lose  about $280 billion if the Trump administration deports the nearly one million undocumented who qualified for the program (January 2017 CATO institute).

We are unique. Our country is considered "The Melting Pot". Every person in this country, except for Native Americans, is an immigrant. Immigrants have created and built an amazing society. When did we determine that could decide who shouldn’t receive the same opportunities that our parents, grandparents, or our ancestors did? We need to acknowledge our privilege, whether it is race, gender, documentation, or education, and help others over the barriers our ancestors went through. Immigrants have the right to make decisions to help them strive for a better life for themselves and their families. This country wouldn’t be where it is without immigrants. We constantly need individuals to help move this country forward. We need DREAMers.