The following essay was written for “Introduction to Rhetorical Criticism” during my senior year.
Analyzing the Effectiveness of Joel Sati’s DACA pits ‘good immigrants’ against millions of others
By Marlee Middlebrooks
Just four days after President Trump said that his administration would end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), The Atlanta Journal Constitution published an opinion article by Joel Sati, one of approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. He titled his piece DACA pits ‘good immigrants’ against millions of others. Several reasons lead me to choose to critique this rhetoric. Foremost, it is personal. Sati is not simply an informed citizen who feels strongly regarding DACA, rather DACA personally affects his life. I am moved often by rhetoric where there is a personal connection; therefore, this editorial interests me. Secondly, this rhetoric is not simply arguing for or against DACA itself. There are plenty of editorials that have been published and will continue to be published arguing for or against DACA as the status of this policy unfolds under the Trump administration. This piece, however, is a criticism of DACA, something that many people, especially a beneficiary of DACA, might be hesitant to consider. This also intrigues me. Specifically, this piece of rhetoric is not only interesting to me, but it is of interest to millions of Americans because this is affecting so many lives presently. U.S. citizens are paying attention because the process of immigrants’ status is going to continue unfolding. In an article published by Politico, President Trump said, “This is a gradual process, not a sudden phase out. Permits will not begin to expire for another six months, and will remain active for up to 24 months. Thus, in effect, I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act” (McCaskill). Certainly, Dreamers are bound to feel strongly regarding this rhetoric. One of their own is criticizing a policy that has currently benefited their way of life but is now being threatened. Overall, this editorial will irrefutably speak to many audiences, and it will demand that many audiences listen. Lastly, in choosing this piece of rhetoric, I applied the representativeness principle of choice. DACA was a policy enacted by President Obama and then a policy that President Trump spoke heavily about during his campaign. Major policies regarding immigration are widely representative of a president’s agenda. Even though this opinion was not written by a president or a politician, it was written by an immigrant, someone who this policy represents; therefore, I believe this principle of choice must apply to this scenario.
Throughout his rhetoric, Sati implements several goals. Specifically, there are two main themes present. The first is that DACA is not a sufficient solution to the larger problem of immigration because its framing was problematic from its origin. Sati introduces this theme in the second paragraph and expands on it through examples in the third paragraph. “The DACA narrative … tends to highlight “model” immigrants — those with perfect GPAs, impeccable English and spotless criminal records, like me” (Sati). The second theme is supporting DACA cannot be synonymous with fighting against the “other” immigrants. “Without the “good immigrant” vs. “bad immigrant” narrative … there would be neither a need nor a justification for a hotline to report immigrant crimes” (Sati). In addition to these major themes, there are two requested actions in the rhetoric. The first requested action is that immigrants need to begin reframing their experiences and rewriting their narratives. “The fight to keep it [DACA] needs to adopt a narrative that doesn’t criminalize the rest of the 12 million.” (Sati). However, more than just adopting a new narrative, I believe the larger and second requested action at hand that Sati is suggesting is to move onward past DACA. In his concluding statement Sati says, “Unless we move beyond DACA, we now stand to pay the price for our myopia.”
Before achieving any goals Sati set forth for his rhetoric, he first had to activate specific advantages or overcome specific barriers that preexisted his writing. Foremost, Sati has a situational advantage when writing this editorial due to the very specific events that have recently unfolded. According to an article published by the New York Times on September 5, 2017, “President Trump on Tuesday ordered an end to the Obama-era program that shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation, calling it an “amnesty-first approach” and urging Congress to pass a replacement before he begins phasing out its protections in six months” (Shear and Davis). This speaks to the fact that this issue is happening right now and media outlets are confronting it “head-on.” Sati is also proving that he is not afraid to take a stance within the media. This serves as an advantage for him. Immigration policy is a current event, a focal point, under the Trump administration, and since President Trump has made his intentions clear to phase out DACA beginning only six months from now, we can expect to continue to see citizens and immigrants alike talking about the status of this policy and future policies just as Sati has begun the conservation with his editorial.
Similarly, another advantage to Sati’s rhetoric is the general attention of his audience. This is different than the specific event advantage because this advantage deals specifically with the fact that people are paying attention to what is being said, and it is not likely that they will lose interest. According to an article published by the Los Angeles Times as recently as September 18, 2017, six Dreamers have sued the Trump administration. The suit was filed in San Francisco, with the Dreamers claiming that “Trump’s decision to phase out the DACA program over the next six months ‘was motivated by unconstitutional bias against Mexicans and Latinos’” (Branson-Potts). This quotation proves that there is an audience affected directly by Trump’s actions, and this audience is willing to act. No one needs to question whether immigrants or Americans, generally, are paying attention. Whether people agree or disagree with DACA, rhetorically speaking, if the topic is DACA related, this is an attention of audience advantage for any rhetorician.
A third advantage for Sati would be the audience based belief that DACA has not been a successful policy. According to an article published by the NPR, “Among people who “strongly approve” of Trump, 71 percent told Morning Consult that rescinding DACA was the “right thing to do.” (The rest were evenly split between “wrong thing” and “don’t know/no opinion.”) (Kurtzleben). Even though Sati does not self-describe himself as a Republican or Democrat or even more specific as one among those who “strongly approve of Trump,” I believe that this audience based belief is an advantage for his rhetoric. This statistic evidences that there is an audience who feels strongly that DACA has been unsuccessful altogether as an immigration policy, so much that it should be rescinded. Whether or not Sati agrees with other beliefs held by this political group, they do share the commonality that DACA has unsuccessfully met the needs of immigrants. Therefore, when appealing to an audience base, Sati will appeal to the group who is happy that Trump is working to end DACA.
Moreover, there is still a fourth advantage working in Sati’s favor. This is the shared value among the audience for equality—a value that all immigrants should be seen as equal human beings and that some are not better or worse than others because of factors such as differing education levels. Densho, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving, educating, and sharing the story of World War II-era incarceration of Japanese Americans, recently published a blog reminding its audience that as the fight for DACA continues, four things must be kept in mind. The first thing the blog includes is to “Stand with all immigrants. Dreamers are not the victims of irresponsible parents, nor should their struggles be used to erase other, less “sympathetic” immigrants who did not grow up to become doctors and lawyers and college professors. This “good immigrant, bad immigrant” narrative is a divide and conquer tactic that has historically been used to pit communities of color against each other” (Densho). This illustrates that there is another audience base who has written almost the same sentiment as Sati. Immigrants, not just Latino immigrants but Asian American immigrants are demanding that support for their community be based not upon circumstances. Clearly, this is an advantage for Sati’s rhetoric. Other communities are rallying and demanding that they be viewed as equal.
Even though Sati had some clear rhetorical advantages, he also had one strong barrier that could have been difficult to overcome in this rhetorical situation. Despite the audience based belief that DACA has not been a successful policy, there is still an audience based belief that DACA has been and will continue to be a successful policy and should therefore not be repealed. This audience lends itself to be a barrier for Sati. An article published by The Washington Post detailed the stories of two undocumented immigrants who are now members of Congress pleading with the President to consider keeping DACA. “We both remember arriving in the United States, speaking limited English, and being fearful of deportation,” Kihuen and Espaillat wrote. “Our backgrounds and the trajectory of our careers have been humbling, and show how, with the right opportunities, anyone can achieve the American Dream” (Weigel). Examples like this showcase the kinds of barriers Sati faces in his own rhetoric. People who believe strongly that DACA is an effective policy and who use personal narratives could hinder Sati in his own rhetoric. This example speaks to the fact that there is an audience who might not be so easily convinced that DACA is negatively affecting people’s lives, especially not the lives immigrants.
Upon reviewing the advantages and barriers that Sati faces in his rhetoric, I believe that if he employs proper strategies, Sati could activate his advantages and have an effective rhetoric. Because he has several advantages, there is the potential to have a very strong editorial that is persuasive; however, he must use strategies that work well. Otherwise the audience based belief that DACA has been a successful policy, albeit the only barrier I listed, could stand in his way of an effective piece of rhetoric.
Throughout his rhetoric, Sati employs a multitude of rhetorical strategies. The most important aesthetic strategy that Sati utilizes is labeling. He does this beginning in the title of his opinion piece, and he only continues this throughout his work because without labeling, his main point his moot. He labels immigrants as “good” and “bad.” In every paragraph except one, there is a mention to this label. This can be seen in the fourth paragraph, for example, when Sati says, “Though well-intentioned, lauding the Dreamers has the unintended effect of juxtaposing these “good,” “deserving” immigrants with the “bad” ones—those with, say, a drug charge from years back—who deserve nothing but deportation and marginalization” (Sati). A second aesthetic strategy is the use of personification. Paragraph five states, “DACA essentially threw non-Dreamer immigrants under the bus, and now the policy has been exposed as an abject political failure. The distinctions some immigrants made to present themselves as deserving no longer carry water” (Sati). Another strategy that Sati relies heavily on is appealing to citizens’ need and values. “Our movement must make a fundamental shift in how we frame our experience in the struggle for substantive immigration protections: safety from deportation, citizenship for all 12 million and a reconceptualization of political membership in such a way that the situation we face never happens again. We deserve this not because we are good, but because we are human beings” (Sati). In this brief statement alone, Sati appeals to the need for safety, the value of equality, and the value of opportunity. He also appealed to the emotion of guilt. Lastly, a strategy that Sati applied in his piece was credibility through good will and his ability to identify with the audience. He stated in his introduction that he is an undocumented immigrant, but I believe it is later in his rhetoric that he employs this strategy. “I don’t object to the protections that DACA grants (which would be strange, given that I have benefited so much from it), nor am I against efforts to retain it. But DACA is not the endgame, and the fight to keep it needs to adopt a narrative that doesn’t criminalize the rest of the 12 million” (Sati). It is here that he employs credibility as a strategy.
As mentioned above, I only listed one main barrier that could have challenged Sati’s rhetoric—the audience based belief that DACA has been a successful immigration policy. In order to overcome this specific barrier, I believe Sati used credibility, specifically good will. Even though Sati is one of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., he stated clearly in his second paragraph that DACA “was never an adequate solution to our nation’s immigration situation.” Therefore, from the beginning of his rhetoric, he had to be aware that he could have lost the interest of those who could relate the most to him. To hopefully earn back some of their favor, he reminded them that he is not discrediting what DACA has done for any of them or fighting against it completely, but rather, he is fighting the narrative that he believes the policy has written for immigrants. I do believe this strategy was successful in addressing the issue. I believe that had Sati criticized DACA without ever addressing the fact that he has reaped its benefits would have been a huge disadvantage for him, so I believe this worked in his favor. However, I don’t know that solely employing credibly is enough to persuade audience members who believe that DACA has been successful to reconsider that it may have had harmful effects. I think a total evaluation will have to be considered after examining all of Sati’s rhetorical strategies as compared to the advantages that pre-existed his rhetoric and this barrier.
In order to activate the several advantages present, Sati employed many rhetorical strategies. It’s difficult to stimulate the specific event advantage because the event, in a way, is the stimulation; however, to aid this process as well as to activate and maintain the attention of the audience, Sati appealed to the need for safety and the values of equality and opportunity. Appealing to one’s needs and emotions was a very successful strategy for Sati. In a political climate that is extremely tense, appealing to the value of equality was strategic. Sati was genuine, too. Even though he is not necessarily for DACA, he is genuinely for a narrative that is centered around equality and opportunity for all immigrants and all citizens regardless of background. It is hard for anyone not to want to support this position. Lastly, to activate the advantage of a shared value of equality, Sati used the strategy of labeling to juxtapose this value and bring awareness to how harmful a narrative is if it is not one of equality. The labeling was key in showing how dangerous the good vs. bad narrative truly has been for immigrants. I believe Sati’s strategies were implemented well, and I do believe they were successful in activating the advantages and overcoming the barriers that were present.
In conclusion, I believe Sati’s rhetoric was successful in achieving his initial purpose. I believe he acknowledged the advantages and barriers that preexisted the rhetoric and employed successful strategies that allowed readers to digest and interpret a very sound and persuasive argument. He did not shy away from his points; he was very clear that he believes DACA has labeled immigrants as good and bad, but he was equally clear in appealing to a common value—equality. This is an American value that his audience can stand behind. Whether the reader walks away from the editorial agreeing or disagreeing that DACA should or should not be repealed ultimately was not Sati’s goal. His goal was to highlight a very dangerous narrative that DACA has portrayed, and by the end of his editorial, I believe he was successful in bringing people into a better understanding of his viewpoint.
Branson-Potts, Hailey. “Six ‘Dreamers’ sue Trump to block repeal of DACA.” Los Angeles Times, 18 Sep. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-daca-lawsuit-20170918-story.html. Accessed 18 Sep. 2017.
Densho, “As we fight for DACA, we must remember these four things.” Densho, 07 Sep. 2017,
https://densho.org/fight-daca-must-remember-four-things/. Accessed 12 Sep. 2017.
Johnson, Eliana. “Trump has decided to end DACA, with 6-month delay.” Politico, 03 Sep. 2017, http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/05/trump-dreamers-daca-work-permits-242323. Accessed 18 Sep. 2017.
Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Republicans Are Happy Trump Ended DACA. They’re Less Sure About Deporting DREAMers.” NPR, 17 Sep. 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/09/17/551392700/republicans-are-happy-trump-ended-daca-they-re-less-sure-about-deporting-dreamer. Accessed 18 Sep. 2017.
Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis. “Trump Moves to End DACA and Calls on Congress to Act.” The New York Times, 05 Sep. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/05/us/politics/trump-daca-dreamers-immigration.html. Accessed 12 Sep. 2017.
Sati, Joel. “Opinion: DACA pits ‘good immigrants’ against millions of others.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Cox Media Group, 09 Sep. 2017, http://www.myajc.com/news/opinion/opinion-daca-pits-good-immigrants-against-millions-others/raV8vV37ZAn62hmpBSgtzM/. Accessed 9 Sep. 2017.
Weigel, David. “Immigrant members of Congress ask Trump to keep DACA.” The Washington Post, 31 Aug. 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/08/31/immigrant-members-of-congress-ask-trump-to-keep-daca/?utm_term=.eba35ad1a4ff. Accessed 12 Sep. 2017.
Feature photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash.