Freeform’s The Fosters is arguably one of the most progressive shows on air. They’ve covered anything and everything from foster children’s likelihood to slip through the cracks, to sexuality and gender identity, to teen steroid and stimulant abuse, to school shootings, to TBIs, to abortion and more, all with respect and without sugarcoating. The show has once again hit it out of the park with their recent, and incredibly well-timed, arc on immigration.
Earlier this month, Donald Trump announced plans to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals bill. DACA recipients, sometimes referred to as Dreamers, are undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and were legally permitted to remain in the country. According to NBC, no new individuals are able to apply to receive protection through the program, but current recipients with expiration dates prior to March 5, 2018, will have some leeway—until October 5, they’ll be able to apply for a two-year renewal. Trump has apparently advised the Department of Homeland Security that “DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang,” but let’s remember that DACA recipients are heavily vetted and paid a nice fee, and that this is all very unlikely. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped American citizens from launching attacks on DACA recipients.
In light of these recent events, I truly can’t believe how on point the timing of The Fosters‘ most recent storyline was. Reminiscent of the Milo Yiannopoulos protests at UC Berkeley, we see the arc begin with Callie Adams-Foster and her friend Ximena, an undocumented immigrant protected by DACA, planning to protest Shiloh McCullen, an activist who “spews hate speech,” at an upcoming lecture. While the two are making posters for the protest with Mariana, Callie’s adoptive sister, Ximena is noticeably quiet. When Mariana asks her what’s wrong, Ximena tells them that her father is updating their family plan.
Mariana thinks she’s talking about their cell service. In reality, she’s talking about her family’s plans in the event that one of them gets deported. Given the current political climate, her father is transferring everything to be in Ximena’s name and, should he and her mother be deported, Ximena will become her little sister’s legal guardian. As she relays how her parents want the two of them to stay in the U.S., no matter what happens to them, she begins to cry. This is one of many reminders of the humanity behind Dreamers that people often seem to forget. They’re not here to break the law, and they’re not here to have any effect on you. They’re scared. Of losing their families, of returning to a country that they can’t even remember, of leaving their friends and losing their educational opportunities. Steph, Callie’s adoptive mom, steps out at the end of this conversation and asks, “Plotting to overthrow the world, are we?” “If that’s what it takes.”
As the protest begins, students chant anti-hate messages from behind barricades while police in face shields patrol in front of them. Counter-protesters line up on the opposite side of the street. One crosses the barrier, shouting, “Shiloh McCullen’s a patriot! I hope you snowflakes melt in hell!” to which Ximena responds, “Hell is where the haters go…” He tells her to get out of his country, and spits at her before calling her third world trash and starting a “Build the wall!” chant. Sounds familiar, right?
The midseason finale, which shows the end of the protest and its aftermath, aired the same day that the end of DACA was announced. Each side is chanting their own relevant rhetoric, “we teach free speech” versus “immigrants are welcome here,” until Ximena stands up with a megaphone. “The real enemies of free speech are flamethrowers like Shiloh McCullen, who seek to normalize hateful ideas that lead to violent actions against vulnerable communities,” she begins, addressing the counter-protesters gracefully despite the way they’ve been speaking to and about her. “I know, I am an undocumented immigrant. And cruel, xenophobic language has taken its toll on me and my family. This is a learning environment, where a student’s humanity should not be challenged as some excuse for free vicious speech.” The same counter-protester yells, “America first! Go back to Mexico!” but she continues, “All over our country, people like me are scared. That is not my America. And you don’t need to be a citizen to recognize that.”
This speech should speak for itself, but what is most telling is that, despite the vitriol being hurled at Ximena, she tries to break through to the other side. She’s eloquent. She’s not crying, or hiding, or hurling insults back. When somebody attacks her, she continues on as if they hadn’t even spoken, and she stands stronger than before. When you harass Dreamers, they don’t go crawling back to the country they came from, despite your wishes. They stand up, and they call you out. The harder you push, the harder they, and their supporters, fight.
When Shiloh arrives, the students link arms to block her from entering. A counter-protester throws a small Molotov into the street from the students’ side, creating chaos, and Callie tries to convince Ximena and the other protesters near her to leave. When they refuse, she runs anyway. The next time Callie sees Ximena, it’s at prom. Since Callie bailed, she hasn’t been answering her phone calls and Callie’s afraid that something happened to her. When she apologizes for leaving her, Ximena says, “You know what I’m really mad about? My dad’s got two jobs, and my mom works six days a week for me and Poppy to have opportunities, like going to college. Now these people that say that we take away their jobs? My parents do the jobs that they don’t wanna do. All we want is to be citizens, but with all of these hateful people coming out of the woodwork, if this is what America stands for? Then maybe this country was never great.”
Once again, they’ve hit the nail on the head. Just another quick reminder: DACA recipients are legally permitted to work in the United States, and unless their parents are working under the table, they are in fact paying taxes. If they took your job, it’s because they were the better candidate (or because employers are taking advantage of their status and paying them less than what they deserve, in which case your anger is still misdirected *insert shrugging emoji here*). Hate is not what makes America great, and continuing on this path sure isn’t going to make anything any better.
When Callie steps outside for some air, she finds ICE showing Ximena’s picture to prom-goers.
Callie says that she doesn’t know her, and runs in to get Steph, a cop, who pretends to arrest Ximena for underage drinking in an attempt to get her past them due to jurisdiction. They tell her that Ximena made threats to the security of the United States during her speech at the protest and that they’ll just pick her up on release. Ximena’s entire speech is transcribed above, and none of it sounds particularly threatening to me, but this wouldn’t be the first time that an authority figure manipulated a situation to benefit their cause.
Callie overhears ICE’s threat, and while Steph is busy with the officers, she grabs Ximena out of the back of the car. She and her ex, AJ, get her into the back of his car and leave the lot, but ICE follows after them. Despite the fact that Ximena has her DACA card and has done nothing worthy of arrest, the summer finale ends with the three just barely making it into a church for sanctuary.
The Fosters may only exist on Freeform, but real people are living this reality. As many as 800,000 could be in the near future, in fact. The timing of this episode made its plot all the more real and all the more important. Ximena could be your classmate, your coworker or your neighbor. She could be your customer, or you could be her client. Whoever she is, she’s just as human as you. Please remember that the next time you want to tell her to go back to where she came from.
If you don’t watch The Fosters, now would be the perfect time to catch up in preparation for their 2018 return, and if you do, you know how dramatic these arcs can get. I can’t even begin to imagine what’s going to go down to vindicate Ximena, what might change in light of the end of DACA, or what woke topic they’ll tackle next.