Defining American | 2017 Atlanta ABCs

Within active citizenship, “citizen” is defined as a person who inhabits a space; our belief in community is not restricted by borders and documents. The imminent threat to the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) has put a media spotlight on immigration - an issue that is not new, but has historically been used to define and shape what it means to be American.

During the Atlanta ABCs, we partnered with three community organizations: Freedom University, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and El Refugio - each working with diverse immigrant populations. We spent the week deconstructing the meaning of “American” while working to develop our understanding of a nation historically built and sustained by immigrants.

Well-intentioned supporters of the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients - also known as DREAMers - often argue that they were brought here as young children and shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions. The natural, yet harmful, instinct to defend Dreamers’ “Americanness” focuses on those who speak English, go to college, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities. These are considered the “good” immigrants. 

As we rise to the defense of DACA recipients, we should consider the narratives we’re advancing. By defining American as a singular identity and behavior, we create a villainized image of what it means to be not American enough. We risk dehumanizing those who exist outside a narrow definition of American - non-English speakers, low-wage workers, those who are detained, and the many who have broken laws seeking a new home and better life. While responding to policy changes and demanding equity, our approach to immigration justice must be inclusive of all.

Active citizenship is not dependent on legal status, but on a commitment to community. It is an identity that is claimed, not given. While the citizen status of “American” is dependent on legality, we can still expand our vision of community. If you’re looking for a place to stand in solidarity with our immigrant friends and neighbors, we recommend supporting the work of United We Dream, Welcoming America, and the National Immigrant Law Center. Call, email, organize, and put pressure on elected officials to advance the policies you believe reflect what it means to be American, and continue to ask how we can make the work of active citizenship more inclusive.

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