On a magical night not so many years ago, my home was filled with amazing, hopeful and savvy teenagers who had traveled to Washington to lobby for the DREAM Act — legislation that would give them conditional residency in the only country they’d known. These undocumented young people, camped out in sleeping bags on my living room floor, told me they knew the dangers of being out as a “Dreamer,” but they had chosen to emerge from the shadows to claim their identity as Americans.
Today, in cities and towns all across this country, the brave and inspiring young people I met on that December day in 2010 are among the hundreds of thousands of our neighbors, friends and family members living in this moment of grave uncertainty. By rescinding DACA, Donald Trump launched a fresh assault on the American Dream, risking the lives — and livelihoods — of more than 800,000 Dreamers. There are more than 75,000 LGBTQ people who are eligible for DACA; an estimated 36,000 of them have received DACA status and face uniquely complicated — and potentially dangerous — circumstances if the Trump-Pence assault is carried out.
Not everyone has the luxury of being born into wealth, much less the child of a New York real estate mogul. But through DACA, America has helped give young Dreamers, brought to this country as children, a chance to live up to their potential — the very essence of what makes our country great.
Dreamers are graduating from colleges and universities, they are leading successful careers, they are serving in our military, and they are living and working alongside us across this country. Most of all, they — like all immigrants — are human beings, deserving of dignity and respect.
Today and every day, the LGBTQ community stands with immigrants and Dreamers. Many LGBTQ people know what it feels like to hide who they are as an act of survival, to look over one’s shoulder in fear, or to wonder what opportunities might be pushed out of reach if they are discovered. This is what we have fought against for decades, and we can’t let Donald Trump and Mike Pence push anyone back into the shadows because of who they are.
HRC President Chad Griffin has spoken eloquently about our community’s connection with LGBTQ Dreamers like Jesus, who came with his family from Mexico when he was three years old and realized his dream of going to college. After coming out as gay, he came to work at PFLAG and HRC to help other LGBTQ youth. Jesus is a DACA recipient.
And Javier, who came to the United States as a young boy from Guatemala with his brother and mother, who simply wanted to protect her son and bring him to a place where he would be safe and could seek opportunity. Javier, who came out as queer when he was 16, is fortunate to have legal status today. He’s an HRC Youth Ambassador and vocal advocate for the many others like him who still do not.
An extraordinarily frightening aspect of what Trump-Pence are proposing — many of the DACA-eligible LGBTQ people risk being deported to countries where they have not only never lived, but that have horrendous human rights records. To be openly LGBTQ in parts of Central America is potentially life threatening. The United Nations has called for an investigation into violence against transgender women in El Salvador. LGBTQ people in Guatemala often face harassment and abuse at the hands of police. And in Honduras, at least 192 LGBTQ people were murdered between 2008 and 2015.
Congress must protect these innocent Dreamers from the Trump-Pence administration’s heartless attacks. We share a belief in the U.S. that a person’s circumstances at birth, or where their life takes them as a child, shouldn’t determine their ability to pursue the American dream.
I’ll never forget that on the same day the Dream Act failed back in 2010, Congress repealed the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which had barred LGBTQ people from serving openly in the military. I dreaded going home and facing my young guests who had come so far only to lose — and on a day when our LGBTQ community was celebrating the DADT victory. But as we gathered around my kitchen table, I felt nothing but happiness and support from the Dreamers for a vote for LGBTQ equality — and they pledged to be back, to keep organizing, and to build more support to win.
And today, on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign’s grassroots army of 3 million members and supporters, to every Dreamer across America today, I say we are with you.
Mary Beth Maxwell is HRC’s Senior Vice President for Programs, Research and Training.