Three months ago, the Trump White House announced the end of DACA, the immigration protection program for “dreamers.” The program has allowed undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children to live in the country, shielded from deportation.
This week, tensions have escalated. Several dozen Republican lawmakers are calling for a permanent legal fix to aid “dreamers” by year’s end, and on Wednesday, thousands of protesters echoed that sentiment at the foot of the Capitol, leading to nearly 200 arrests, including of several Maryland politicians.
Into this climate, “Baldo” co-creators Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos deliver a character’s deeply personal story of crossing the border as a boy.
“We’ve had an eye on the ‘dreamers’ in the news,” Cantu tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “It’s a crucial, important issue.
“We always ask ourselves when we read the news, ‘Would this happen in Baldo’s world?’ When we saw huge immigration marches across the country back in 2006, we’d tell ourselves, ‘If Baldo [were] a real high school kid, he’d be out there marching.’ So Carlos and I did strips about those marches.”
The situation is similar now, says the Texas-sprung Cantu.
“If Baldo [were] a real high school kid, he would know ‘dreamers,’ ” Cantu says. “They’d be his friends! Maybe his closest friends! So we see it as a natural subject for the strip. How can we NOT do it?”
In the strips, we see young Cruz has been trained on what to do should he come home to find that his parents have disappeared, presumably picked up by immigration authorities.
“Even though we’re creating this crazy comic-strip world, we can’t ignore reality,” says Cantu, who was a journalist for nearly 15 years before launching “Baldo” into Universal Uclick syndication in 2000. “We don’t want to be fiddling while folks in the Latino community are running around putting out fires.”
“So, yeah, every now and then we step into editorial-cartoon territory,” he says. “And we get those emails: ‘Keep politics out of my comics.’ But I don’t really see this week as a ‘political’ week. It’s a reality week, and we’re going to write about real stuff when we feel it helps our characters grow and makes them more real.”
And to Cantu, that reality includes the pressing issue: How we are going to deal with hundreds of thousands of kids who came to this country with their undocumented parents?
“Is this a criminal issue? Is this a humanitarian issue?” he asks. “Whichever way we go as a society, our response is going to impact a lot of people in lots of ways.”
“If dreamers can stay in this country, I’m sure Cruz will be relieved,” he continues. “If we start deporting kids and young people, well, maybe people we’ve known as good friends, best friends, will no longer be here. . . . Personally, I believe these young people are Americans in every way except their immigration status, and it’s in this country’s best interest to treat them fairly and reasonably.”
As for the reader debate — there have been more than 300 comments this week on GoComics, with positive and negative responses to the story — Cantu says: “We’re happy people are talking about it. But Carlos and I are simply telling a story, a story that we think actually reflects a reality for a lot of young people. There has to be a way we can reasonably solve this issue.”