DACA support in a conservative climate

Last week, Lovington’s school board went against the grain of its local politics.

By a 3-2 vote, the municipal school board there passed a resolution supporting DACA recipients—a move that runs contrary to the conservative inclinations of this area of the state. The resolution expresses the board’s support for “those protected by DACA” and urges New Mexico’s congressional delegation to “deliver” legislation that continues to protect them.

The issue stems from President Trump’s announcement that he’ll end the DACA program if Congress doesn’t act on it. Signed into law by then-President Obama, DACA protects young people who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and have lived here since June 2007 without the proper legal documentation. These so-called “Dreamers”—who are mostly from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras—were minors during their “illegal” move to the U.S., so the DACA program was created to protect them from deportation.

These Dreamers—there are nearly 800,000 in the U.S. right now—signed up for the program as a way to protect themselves from being thrown out of the U.S., the only nation many of them have ever known. With Trump’s executive action, however, their future in this country is now uncertain.

Meanwhile, the Lovington Leader’s John Graham reported last week that, after a lengthy debate, it took a tie-breaking vote from the board’s president, Greg Maxie, to pass the resolution. Apparently, the measure pitted a couple of conservative school board members against their more progressive counterparts.

Understand that Lea County, of which Lovington is the county seat, isn’t exactly a bastion of liberalism. The county’s voters went 70 percent for Trump. This is oil-and-gas country, where the Permian Basin spews forth high-paying jobs and Republicans rule the political roost.

But it’s also home to a lot of immigrants, which provide much of the labor needed on the farms and ranches and out in the oil patch. U.S. Census data has Lea County’s population as 15.9 percent foreign-born, the third highest percentage among the state’s 33 counties. Moreover, Hispanics now make up the majority, comprising 57.5 percent of the county’s total population, census data show.

The times, they are a-changing… but not that fast. Republicans maintain a hold on the politics of southeastern New Mexico, which must be why I know of no other governing entity in the region that has passed anything similar to the Lovington school board resolution supporting DACA recipients. Maybe there has been and I just didn’t see it in the news, but I doubt I missed anything.

In fact, I’ll venture to say that DACA is far more controversial in southeastern New Mexico than anywhere else in the state. Elsewhere, New Mexico is much more opposed to Trump’s immigration policies, including his DACA declaration. Pro-DACA resolutions and other similar actions have easily passed elsewhere around the state, and demonstrations against Trump’s action surfacing in big cities and small college towns alike.

In Albuquerque last month, shortly after Trump’s DACA announcement, hundreds of high school and college students left their classrooms to protest on the streets, in support of their brothers and sisters who are about to become “illegal” in the government’s eyes.

Our state is home to roughly 8,000 Dreamers, along with their immediate and extended families, so this issue is personal to a lot of New Mexicans. And, nationally, polls have shown that Americans overwhelmingly oppose their deportations.

This issue is a two-edged sword. The Dreamers may very well lose out because of Trump and a lack of congressional action, but so too will the Republican Party lose, for its cynical approach to the issue. Pulling DACA out from under thousands of ambitious young adults reeks of unfairness, and young Americans in particular can see that.

Don’t worry about a border wall; it’s a false promise made by a hyperbolic president. Worry instead for this nation’s Dreamers and their families. And think about what this issue is doing to our youngest voters, Dreamer-age U.S. citizens who see the nation’s capital as calloused, uncaring and morally wrong.

It would be better for them to see places like Lovington, where a small group of school board members defied their community’s conservative underpinnings to do what’s right. Standing on principle is something we can all admire.

Tom McDonald is a columnist and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He may be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com.