When the Beach Boys released their version of “California Dreaming” in 1986, singing “All the leaves are brown, and the skies are grey. . . .” they weren’t thinking of California today. It’s not winter, for one thing, but late summer-about-to-be-fall. But many of the leaves on our still drought-troubled trees are already brown, and the sky is grey from haze and smoke from forest fires throughout California.
Of course, 1986 wasn’t such a great year for California either: Ronald Reagan, who as governor had presided over the decimation of the State’s vaunted university system, was president; the Challenger disaster occurred in January, and the Russian nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded in April—just for starters. So harking back to 1986 shouldn’t take us on a trip down nostalgia lane (though I should note that The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted that year and Miyazaki made the first Studio Ghibli film, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, both great events in my book).
Still, it’s sobering to look back over three decades and see that in that year the Congress passed the 1986 Immigration and Reform Act. In summarizing the bill, Kurtis Mees writes that it
[G]ave unauthorized aliens the opportunity to apply and gain legal status if they met mandated requirements. The fate or status of all those who applied fell into the hands of “Designated Entities” and finally the U.S. Attorney General. Applicants had to prove that they lived and maintained a continuous physical presence in the U.S. since January 1st, 1982, possess a clean criminal record, and provide proof of registration within the Selective Service. Moreover, applicants had to meet minimal knowledge requirements in U.S. history, government and the English language or be pursuing a course of study approved by the Attorney General.
Sounds like a gain for immigrants, at first glance. The law did lead to green cards for two and a half million immigrants, many of them farm workers. But millions more were deemed ineligible—and so the “problem” continued to grow, as voices on the right called, incessantly, for stronger and stronger anti-immigration legislation.
Today we are caught in the same controversy, with an attorney general who is determined to roll back immigration and deport, deport, deport. While I had hoped that those in power today would exempt the “dreamers”—young people who signed up with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—on Tuesday, August 5, 2017, Jeff Sessions, arch foe of immigrants and immigration, announced that the program would be phased out, leaving some 800,000 young people—who have no criminal records but who have worked hard, gone to school, paid taxes, served in the military—completely vulnerable. We are in a time with more anti-immigrant sentiment in our government than perhaps any time since the 1920s, with little hope in sight that Congress will pass any sensible legislation to protect these dreamers as well as to establish rational, reasonable immigration reform.
We here in California, with the largest number of DACA recipients, are still trying to dream, however: the governor, many mayors, and most university presidents have said they will do everything in their power to protect those who signed up for DACA, and people up and down this long, long state are in the streets protesting this latest insult to our democracy.
If you have not yet read former President Obama’s message regarding this issue, please do so on the Los Angeles Times website. It is a reasoned, responsible argument, understated in its eloquence, which offers an opportunity for a class discussion or assignment. Have students read President Obama’s statement and then compare it to Jeff Sessions’s announcement of the rescinding of DACA on the Washington Examiner, or look at the current president’s potentially self-contradictory tweets about the issue.
Ask students to look at the claims made and proof offered in support of each. Ask them to tease out the enthymemes and see if the assumptions on which they are based stand up to scrutiny. Ask them to do some research on possible legislation being proposed by congressional leaders and look carefully at who gains and who loses from it. Ask them to think about what it means to be an American.
In addition to our indigenous fellow citizens, we are a country of immigrants; many of our most important scientific findings, technological developments, and artistic achievements have been accomplished by immigrants—and I am certain there are many more advancements that will come our way from the 800,000 DACA youth.
So I refuse to give up this particular dream, even if the leaves are brown and the skies are grey.