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Dreamers Push Back Against Praise That 'Demonizes' Their Parents

Parker Miles Blohm
Hundreds gather Sept. 5 at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle to protest the Trump administration's announcement that it would roll back the DACA program.

They call it the "good immigrant, bad immigrant" narrative.

Undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers, have been held up and praised by politicians fighting to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

But some Dreamers say that praise draws an uncomfortable line between them and other undocumented people.

“It criminalizes a lot of people and almost demonizes our parents," said Jose Manuel Carrillo, 23, a DACA recipient and community organizer who lives in Bellingham.

Carrillo appeared at a recent news conference with Washington state officials who announced a lawsuit against the Trump administration seeking to preserve DACA.

The program allows qualifying Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. legally, but is being phased out by the Trump administration.

Republicans and Democrats alike have held up students or young college graduates like Carrillo as examples of why the program should be preserved or replaced by legislation.

But Carrillo said the elevation of Dreamers -- and the amount of attention given to the fact that they are not at fault for breaking immigration laws -- can seem to vilify other undocumented people.

"You hear this sort of rhetoric, this sort of narrative, even from immigrants," he said. "Even my parents say, ‘You deserve to be here, no we broke the law.’ Breaking the law is one thing, but whether it’s morally right or wrong for them to have brought us here is another question.”

This split between how politicians talk about Dreamers and other undocumented people was a recurring theme at a recent rally for DACA recipients in Seattle.

"I want to make a call of action to move away from the 'good immigrant versus bad immigrant' narrative," said Jorge Lara, a student at Seattle University.

"The U.S. government has been trying to create division within our community, with their hateful rhetoric and extremely negative narrative."

Carrillo said the answer is for Dreamers to use their recent attention to push for comprehensive immigration reform that covers other undocumented people, like their parents.

“The narrative is changing within Dreamers," he said. "I hope that they keep using their voice right now... to fight for our whole community and not just for us. We don’t want to be used as a bargaining chip. I don’t think I deserve to be here any more than my parents.”

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.