“Beautiful Dreamer” Indeed

by Kevin Solis

As a medical professional needing consultation you turn to Grey’s Anatomy. You know, the legendary medical manual, not the popular ABC series. No, no one needing medical advice should turn to that Grey’s Anatomy. We watch because it is a perpetual coming of age story of surgical interns and doctors often in each other’s beds with a smattering of medical terminology to make it seem credible. By the same token, people needing immigration advice shouldn’t turn to the episode “Beautiful Dreamer” about a DACAmented surgical intern dealing with a workplace visit from ICE. [SPOILERS FOLLOW].

The shortest summary of Dr. Sam Bello’s story arch is she immigrated from El Salvador as a one year old, over achieved academically and socially, received DACA and is fulfilling her American dream of being a surgeon. A suspected running of a red light leads to a workplace visit from an ICE agent, several far flung suggestions are proposed to her by coworkers to deal with the situation including marriage, the ICE agent is diagnosed and treated for a heart condition and admits he finds his job distasteful under the current administration (get it? he has heart) and in the end Dr. Bello, to avoid possible deportation to El Salvador, self deports to Switzerland to continue her medical residency having her American dream deferred.

The episode painted with very broad strokes the undocumented immigration issue and kudos to the writers for working in so many aspects in such a short time: The false sense that you are “protected” if you hold DACA. Few options exist to adjust status. Petty issues will cause people to end up in deportation proceedings. A administrative change in ICE’s criteria for who is deportable. Indefinite detentions. People do call ICE on their coworkers and family through vengeance and control. Deportations are bypassing the immigration court system. People view any undocumented immigrant as “those who broke the law”. People go away overnight separating families and loved ones. Fear in the face of ICE. Friends will rally to your side.

Writers understand drama, subtext, telling relevant stories against a backdrop of conflict. The obvious answer to Dr. Bello’s situation would have been for her to contact her immigration attorney, but that would make for a very dull episode. The ICE agent would have been turned away and a summons for her to appear at their office would be issued instead. I imagine her being accompanied by the immigration attorney and Dr. Grey who would be constantly intervening on Dr. Bello’s behalf and ask to speak to the Director of ICE himself. [BTW, not a diss to white empowered women, this is exactly how to use your agency as an ally and advocate.]

There is currently a dialog about “Dreamers” in our country about their ultimate role as citizens. And to undocumented youth activists engaging in that dialog don’t open with “we really hate to be called ‘dreamers’”, save that for a bit. Realize the larger context that a few years ago people didn’t know undocumented youth existed and now a majority of American’s polled say legislation should pass offering a pathway to citizenship.

Marginalized people move though various phases to be full members of a society. It’s a process of awareness, moving to acceptance, then to inclusion. In television media we are very much in an awareness phase. Importantly, writers are listening to our stories as we consult on these projects. Yes, the resulting picture is a composite, a “best side” view, perhaps an “I didn’t say that” moment for us. But a chance to be on millions of televisions and continue to be part of a national discussion towards a solution.

To undocumented youth who watched the episode, the worst advice is to take immigration advice from friends and family. I’m sure we all chuckled at the proposals from Dr. Bello’s coworkers; getting a new identity, fleeing to Canada, and I’m positive that the Dr. Sam Bello character got the “marriage” conversation of adjusting status from her mother while growing up. If you haven’t already worked with an immigration attorney when applying or renewing DACA get one now. Attorneys who are members of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA.org) will provide pro bono consolation for “Dreamers”. And be sure your current attorney is a member of AILA by checking their site. The episode for Dr. Sam Bello ending in an almost implausible manner of her self deporting to another country but the reality is very plausible, ICE encounters even for DACA holders do upend lives in an instant. Do not go through this without proper legal representation.

To television writers, here’s where we would like to go. Dreamers don’t like being called “dreamers” but being in the awareness phase you get a pass. As we move to acceptance and inclusion realize that undocumented immigrants are part of everyday life. The fictional ICE agent went into the hospital looking for a single person when in reality they would more likely conduct a workplace raid that hauled off many of the hospital’s custodial staff, food workers, radiologists. It’s this reason undocumented youth activists resist this model “Dreamer” narrative, it excludes older immigrants, our aunts, uncles, cousins who don’t qualify for DACA, and our parents – the original dreamers. 

The television program is called Grey’s Anatomy so Dr. Grey too gets a pass for coming up with the solution to Dr. Bello’s immigration problem and seemingly pulling many strings in the process. And this raises the final point in narrative story telling; do people see themselves accurately represented in the story? Dr. Grey used an incredible amount of her agency and we can identify with being the hero for others. But what of our almost shrieking violet of an immigrant doctor who used none of her agency to chart her own path which stood in stark contrast to her previous accomplishments? Very few undocumented youth activists I know saw someone they recognized in that role. And that is the problem, for us as immigration activists.

Undocumented youth activists number in the hundreds while DACA holders number in the hundreds of thousands, almost all of them believing that DACA is an initiative of President Obama. We, not TV, has done a very poor job of reaching this multitude and educating them on their own agency in creating the DACA program. The agency used to get the first ever vote on the Federal Dream Act, and a later vote on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The agency that created the DAPA program (for parents) affecting up to 7 million people. The agency that will get a permanent DACA program and pathway to citizenship. And this is where you will take us next, TV writers, to the incredible agency that undocumented youth activists mobilized to make the president of the most powerful nation in the world take action for them. Activist youth who risked their own deportations to fight for their families. Undocumented people who do not run from but instead confront ICE. These are not characters to be referenced in the current awareness phase, but this is where we, you, are going with our narratives. You likely haven’t heard these stories yet, but you will. As we often say, “we’re not going anywhere”. #heretostay

No more dreams deferred for us.