By Quinlyn Manfull
This past week the Oregon Legislature passed a bill renewing “limited term” drivers’ licenses for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients for two years.
House Bill 4111 is currently sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature, but can be expected to be signed into law soon. This small gain in rights for immigrants in Oregon can be seen as a victory in a world where loss is all too expected. The United States has been stripping immigrants of rights, creating increasingly violent spaces for them across the country.
This did not start with Trump. The dehumanization and exclusion of immigrants is what led to policy that crafts an “exceptional” immigrant – i.e. DACA. 2010 saw the highest number of deportations ever, thanks to changes in policy by President Obama. Through shifting deportation to a less visible sphere, Obama was able to paint himself as pro-immigrant, garnering the support of immigrant populations across the country while still mechanizing the state as a violent tool.
HB 4111 allows DACA and TPS recipients to apply for licenses without needing “to provide proof of legal presence in the United States” if the state transportation department previously issued them a drivers’ license, permit or ID card, if the applicant has an employment authorization document and if that document expired on or after Aug. 1, 2014.
This is a success. Immigrant rights groups have fought hard to ensure access to a driver’s license, which gives the ability to drive your kids to school, get to work, and pick up groceries. Those in opposition to this amendment on HB 4111 spoke in terms of protection and security, continuing the rhetoric that immigrants are a threat to our security.
Framing immigration as a security issue has always been a guise to further criminalize immigrants. Increasing ICE agents, further militarizing their forces, bolstering border control and increasing deportations have all been discussed as security concerns above all else – regardless of evidence that proves immigrants by and large do not commit violent crimes.
Narratives of security are the same as narratives of violence. DACA and DREAMer rhetoric propped up these notions as well. Through crafting an “outstanding” immigrant, you buy into the idea that the average immigrant is not outstanding, you say that people must be outstanding to be American – which is just not true.
Expecting immigrants to be exceptional among a population that is mediocre at best is absurd to say the least, and oppressive at its worst. Human beings are demonized based on arbitrary standards crafted in order to exclude. We see this everyday with the stories of DACA recipients filling our news feeds. I am in awe of the amazing work being done by DACA recipients, but I do not think immigrants must be great in order to be considered worthy.
What is the basis of citizenship in the United States? Exceptionality? Whiteness? Ability to contribute to a labor force? All and none of the above?
This “success” is more of a basic life necessity. We have come a long way from fighting for direct pathways to citizenship, and not in the right direction. Rights that were already meek have been continually chipped away at, movements towards increased rights have failed or been put on hold by direct action by the Obama and Trump administrations.
Activism is draining, especially when it involves violence perpetrated against your body. It is difficult and exhausting to put your body on the line, to speak out and to take up space where you are not wanted, all while dealing with the inherent pain of merely existing as an act of resistance. When your body is inherently political, politicizing it more through direct activism is an added strain. Add consistent loss and a lack of hope for the future on top of that, and it becomes existentially fatiguing.
Revolutionary fatigue is hard to overcome. It is amazing to see a success, but what happens when affording an extension of temporary drivers’ licenses for only a handful of immigrants who have no current pathway to citizenship becomes the big win? Goals have been pushed down to become things that used to be a given, things that 10 years ago wouldn’t feel like a victory at all.