We are at an important crossroads in this nation. We have faced immense, unprecedented challenges in this unimaginably difficult past year, but with a new administration in place and the end of COVID-19 in sight, we also find ourselves with a tremendous opportunity to lay the foundation for a brighter future for all of us.
It is no secret that my mother brought me here without documentation as a child. I’ve told my story what feels like millions of times over the years in the hopes that hearing about my experience would change people’s hearts and inspire them to support the Dreamers who now find themselves in the same position I was in years ago.
I am one of the lucky ones. I was able to eventually gain legal status and then citizenship, and after a childhood spent in the shadows I have been fortunate enough to have a platform that allows me to continue to advocate for this cause that is so near and dear to my heart.
When I read stories about young Pennsylvanians who can’t plan their future because of uncertainty around their immigration status, but are determined to keep fighting to secure a better future for themselves and for all of us, it breaks my heart and fills it with hope at the same time.
I know how important it is to officially “count.” To feel at home and fully a part of your community for the first time. Many people probably wouldn’t believe me if I told them how excited I was the first time I got called for jury duty after I finally obtained my citizenship. That was the moment where I first felt like I was fully a part of this country, and I can’t describe how good it felt.
The Dreamers deserve this same feeling, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because they’ve earned it. During the pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients worked as essential employees.
They are the 29,000 doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare workers who endured unimaginable stress and worked around the clock to care for us. They are agricultural workers and employees at meatpacking plants who suffered higher than average rates of COVID-19 infection to keep us fed. They are teachers who heroically did everything they could to work with parents across the country as we scrambled to figure out how to educate our children via zoom. In short, they are Americans. They always have been, and it’s long past time they get the recognition and security they deserve.
The Dream and Promise Act passed the House in 2019, but it wasn’t taken up in the Senate. Now that this bill, which would protect 2.5 million Dreamers, is back in the Senate, it is an absolute moral imperative that we not miss the opportunity to provide a path to a brighter future for our neighbors.
Because of the Senate filibuster rule, passing this bill will require support from at least 10 Republican Senators. Protecting the Dreamers isn’t just the right thing to do, or just the smart thing to do—it’s also a no-brainer politically. A poll released March 9 shows that 72% of all Americans favor citizenship for the Dreamers.
I hope with all my heart that enough Republican Senators will open their hearts, step up, and do the right thing. I especially hope that Senator Pat Toomey, who despite being a member of a different party is still my Senator, will consider his legacy as he moves towards private life and join us on the right side of history.
The road has been long for the Dreamers, but the end is in sight if we can find the courage to do what is right and ensure that the American Dream is for all of us. Home has always been here for the Dreamers. It’s time we recognize that reality and welcome them, fully and officially, into the American family.
Gisele Barreto Fetterman is an access and equity advocate and, as wife of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Second Lady of Pennsylvania. She is the founder of Freestore 15104, co-founder of 412 Food Rescue and co-founder of For Good PGH.