I Dreamed a Dream: The DACA Debate Explained with Les Mis

Imagine if Les Miserables started with Inspector Javert recapturing Valjean and carting him back to prison. The rest of the story would be like the alternate timeline in It’s a Wonderful Life; Montreuil-sur-Mer would be renamed Pottersville and Cosette would grow up to be a spinster librarian. Remember, Valjean is a criminal so this is a technically a happy ending.

Of course, no one would enjoy that version. It would lack the nuance and character depth that made Victor Hugo’s original work a masterpiece. Yes, Valjean’s prison escape is an illegal act, but he goes on to start a business, adopt an orphan, and save the life of his daughter’s annoying fiance. 

In the original, even when Valjean confesses his true identity to save Champmathieu, the courtroom doesn’t believe him. Valjean had so successfully blended in with society that the single difference between him and a legitimate French citizen was the color of his passport. Only the narrow-minded Javert could look at Monsieur le Mayor and see a criminal.

Like Valjean, Dreamers are wholly integrated into society, but lack the right papers to be considered upstanding citizens. Also like Valjean, they own businesses (34,500 entrepreneurs), help raise others’ children (8,800 teachers), and risk their lives to save strangers (900 members of the military). And in the same way that most musical-goers root for Valjean, the majority of Americans support the Dreamers.

However, there is one huge problem with my Les Mis analogy—unlike Valjean, DACA recipients have not committed any crimes. [This is by definition; DACA status is not granted to those with a criminal history.]

To make this analogy more apt, let’s say that in our hypothetical version of Les Mis, Javert spends the entire time obsessively tracking Cosette, the innocent child of a criminal. His actions in the original can be interpreted as a misguided attempt at justice, but in this version, he would have no such excuse. Why would a law-obsessed police inspector devote his life to tracking down and arresting someone who had done no wrong?  Incredulous readers would criticize Victor Hugo for failing to give his antagonist logical motives.

If you still want to kick out the Dreamers because they’re missing some documents, I won’t tell you to jump off a bridge. I will, however, ask you to remember that even Inspector Javert, the most lawful neutral character in all of literature, gave up his crusade because of the the content of Valjean’s character, and not the color of his passport.


What book would you compare the dreamer issue to? Leave your answer in the comments.

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