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The Fosters Humanizes DACA at a Pivotal Moment

Ximena is in serious trouble

Megan Vick

President Trump's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has undoubtedly caused waves of headlines to flood your Facebook and Twitter feeds, but what exactly does it mean?

If you want the numbers, ending the President Obama program means that 800,000 immigrants who have been raised in America since they were children are now extremely afraid they'll be deported from the only country they've ever known. Ninety percent of them are currently holding jobs in the United States, according to a Center for American Progress survey. Seventy-two percent of them are pursuing higher education degrees (Newsweek) and over half of the Americans who participated in a Morning Consult poll agreed that Dreamers -- DACA program participants -- should have a right to citizenship if they met certain requirements.

If you want the human story, you should watch this season of The Fosters -- especially the heart-wrenching midseason finale which shows the real impact of rescinding DACA on your family and friends. The dramatic hour ended with ICE agents arriving at Callie's (Maia Mitchell) prom to detain her mentor Ximena (Isseth Chavez) after discovering Ximena protesting against a hate-speech activist on her college campus. Despite Ximena's DACA status, a run-in with the law could get her deported and separated from her entire family.

Isseth Chavez, The Fosters

Isseth Chavez, The Fosters

Eric McCandless, Freeform

"Ximena is supposedly a low-priority for detention or deportation because of her DACA status, which is what DACA is," The Fosters executive producer Johanna Johnson explains to TV Guide. "DACA is not a pathway to citizenship. It is not a green card. It's a work permit and a student permit, in other words, to allow kids that were brought here as children by their parents and who really identify as Americans to remain here and study or work in the only country that they know."

Callie and AJ (Tom Williamson) are narrowly able to help Ximena escape being detained by the ICE agents by finding sanctuary in a nearby church. The episode ends with three teenagers stuck inside as red and blue lights flash all around them until they can figure out a way for Ximena to safely return to her family.

The Fosters Made TV History With Callie and Aaron

"ICE agents can go into churches but they don't typically because they don't like the optics of it," Johnson says. "They don't want that publicity. They operate largely in the shadows and sort of don't want people seeing them pull people off of the streets and pulling kids and taking them to detain them...Callie sees this girl is really being unfairly pursued here and she's supposed to be protected under DACA and that's not happening. She feels like she's not breaking any law by helping her get to a church that will offer sanctuary."

Ximena isn't just Callie's mentor on The Fosters. She's an artist and a student at the University of California San Diego. She's a sister and roller derby coach who taught Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) important lessons about female empowerment. She's a girlfriend and a friend and an activist for marginalized groups, despite the danger to her own safety. She's currently the executor of her family's assets, a recent change made by her parents in fear of their own deportation.

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Ximena is the human face of the headlines we scroll by when our feeds become overwhelming, and she is what The Fosters does at its best. After a season of hit-and-run car accidents and sociopathic murderers, The Fosters used its fifth season to return to basics and double down on family issues. Outside of Ximena's DACA storyline the show tackled education privatization, homophobic online trolls, free speech and more. As the DACA debate continues to dominate headlines, The Fosters allows a nuanced, singular perspective to spark conversations in households about where they want to stand as this country decides what it wants to be.

The season finale was shot and finalized before the announcement from President Trump's administration, but it's airing at a critical time. It should be considered essential viewing for those trying to understand the debate surrounding the program. The conversation this storyline and episode creates around the United States' immigration policy could affect not only the arc of the show when it returns in January, but the story for real-life DACA participants going forward. That's what good television has the power to do, and right now The Fosters isn't only excelling at storytelling, but it's telling important stories that relate to our lives.

The Fosters returns this winter on Freeform.