“Relief for DREAMers.” The unexpected headline appearing in two emails I received on June 15, 2012 brought a smile to my face.
“TODAY, President Obama is finally granting DREAMers relief from deportation. DREAM Act youth ages 15-30 will be able to apply for protection from deportation and work permits, which will grant DREAMers a way to contribute to the country they call home. This is a HUGE milestone for DREAMers, who have been fighting for years for the chance to lead successful and prosperous lives here in America.” (America’s Voice & Presente).
In reality, this new U.S. Homeland Security policy is the ‘Almost’ Dream Act.
The DREAM Act (The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minor’s Act) first introduced in 2001 has undergone several changes and has been voted on several occasions, the last time in 2011. Congress has not passed the act. This change in Immigration policy is not an Executive Order and is not the approval of the DREAM Act.
This announcement came one day after the controversial TIME Magazine cover story of how undocumented immigrants, youth in particular, are coming out about their status. The article written by Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer award-winning writer who founded Define American after he came out in the New York Times last year includes Gaby Pacheco, one of the walkers of the Trail of DREAMs 2010, who walked 1500 miles from Miami to DC to highlight the plight of DREAMers.
A Pulizter award winning writer, architects, engineers, medical doctors, nurses, teachers, entrepenuers, and other law abiding students and graduates can stop looking over their shoulder.
The relief from deportation came one day after DREAMers Verónica Gómez and Javier Hernández, ended their 134-hour sit-in and hunger strike at the Colorado Headquarters of the Obama Campaign. And after hundreds of more Dreamers sat in Obama’s campaign offices in Colorado, Michigan and Ohio asking President Obama to issue an executive order stopping the deportation of all DREAM Act eligible youth.
Here’s the big “HOWEVER.”
Unlike the DREAM Act, the policy announced on June 15th will not open a path to citizenship. Eligible immigrants are eligible to apply for work authorization, although there is no guarantee they will receive work permits, and they will have to apply to renew their status every two years.
Within minutes of this announcement online newspaper headlines across the nation used titles such as “Immunity to be offered to certain immigrants.” The GOP and several Republicans came out with strong opposing statements.
While President Obama made the policy change announcement in the White House rose garden, a heckling online journalist interrupted him by yelling at him during his statements. The President repeated, after chastising the journalist, that this policy “…makes it more fair, efficient, and just…It is the right thing to do for the American people.”
“This grant of deferred action is not immunity. It is not amnesty,” Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security) said. “It is an exercise of discretion so these young people are not in the removal system. It will help us continue to streamline immigration enforcement and ensure resources are not spent” unwisely.
This new policy could affect as many as 800,000 undocumented immigrants. That number is unclear in part because immigrants will need to come forward and submit documentation to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Adjudicators will decide whether to grant work permits on a case-by-case basis. Qualifications for deferred action can be found on USDHS site.
Justino Mora and dozens of Dream Act advocates heard about the Obama administration’s decision to grant relief to young illegal immigrants while they were preparing to attend a rally today to push the administration for just such a change. Mora, 22, an undocumented student who attends UCLA, said he was skeptical at first.
“At the beginning I sort of didn’t believe it,” he said, “but then almost immediately I was overwhelmed by a sense of joy. It gives me hope; it motivates me to continue fighting for my family, for my community. Ricardo Muniz, 24, was en route to the rally when he got the news. “I can breathe,” he said.
Mr. Muniz and thousands of others will remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard they are free from deportation and free to pursue their education, jobs, and dreams.