Monday, June 18, 2012

Living the DREAM: What Does President Obama's Announcement On Immigration Mean For DREAMers?

While on my trip to the nation's capital, something incredible happened. I was looking through my Facebook and Twitter feeds to see what was going on in the world (the quickest way to get my news fix) and I read a headline that said something like "President Obama announces a stop to deportations of illegal youth." I was a little bit shocked; it couldn't mean
what I thought. I, like many, have been following the saga that is immigration reform and the fate of the DREAM Act. I eventually read the article attached to the headline, in between wandering around DC visiting all the great monuments and memorials, and I was quite pleased at first. The President had finally used his powers to support the Latino community, the largest group of undocumented people in the US. We are winning this fight, I thought. But the more I wandered around the most powerful city in the country, learning more about our great nation and being reminded of the injustices that have and continue to plague this country's citizens, the more I started to wonder what this really means for immigration reform and the fate of the DREAM Act. 

President Obama announces immigration policy change: "It's the right thing to do"

Let's start at the beginning. So what exactly did President Obama do? He used his executive powers to stop the deportation of DREAMers and to allow undocumented young people who were brought to the United States by their parents at a young age to be able to apply for temporary work permits. This only applies to those brought here before the age of sixteen, currently under the age of thirty and are students, high school graduates, GED recipients and/or military veterans, have continuously lived in the US for five consecutive years, and have no criminal records or pose no threat to public safety. The requirements mirror those of the DREAM Act, which would give young people who have graduated high school and are attending college or joining the military a pathway to citizenship. The only and most important difference, which President Obama made very clear, is that this new policy is only temporary and does not provide a pathway to citizenship. The announcement came shortly after DREAMers began protests and hunger strikes demanding the President use his executive power to stop deportations of DREAM Act eligible people from continuing to occur. It is set to affect about 800,000 undocumented young people currently living and surviving in this nation.

As is always the case whenever a president makes a bold move, people have shared their opinion, either for or against the new policy. Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, criticized President Obama for not creating long-term immigration reform and mentioned that this policy could be overturned by any subsequent president; however, he did not address whether he would overturn it if he won the elections. As fellow Rogue Scholar, Ryan Fleming, pointed out in a recent piece, Romney has consistently argued for a need for long-term immigration reform and has somewhat successfully tied it to the economic crisis, which is something that other candidates and presidents have overlooked or ignored, but that is important to both in favor or against policies, such as, the DREAM Act. What immigration reform would look like under Romney as president would include measures such as self-deportation and support of state laws, such as, Arizona's SB1070, which garnered a lot of criticism from Latinos who see it as a legal form of racial profiling. What is clear from the President's announcement is that Romney will be forced to take a stand, one way or another, on immigration reform and that will make a difference in terms of winning the Latino vote.

Senator Marco Rubio, who has been in the headlines not only as a potential vice presidential pick for Romney, but also as the key to drafting a new DREAM Act proposal and helping to win the Latino vote, is now reconsidering his new version of the bill, which closely aligns with President Obama's announcement, on the grounds that we should not encourage people to break the law. Democrats, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly supportive of the President's decision, arguing that the DREAM Act would have passed if it were not for the Republican's filibuster that ultimately put an end to the bill. Still others claim that the President is merely pandering to the Latino community in order to win their vote, even though he has said time and time again that he is in full support of the DREAM Act. What I find amusing is that the GOP is also trying to find ways to win the Latino vote, but they are not succeeding because they have no idea who Latinos are, yet they are criticizing the President for moving in the right direction with this large community. 

While many, like myself, see this as a step forward, only time will tell what this new policy really means for immigration reform and the DREAMers of today, who anxiously await change. DREAM Activists have their fair share of concerns, as this policy only grants temporary relief, but it is relief nonetheless. What this policy has done is to continue to encourage and motivate those in favor of the DREAM Act to voice their opinion and force the government to listen. Those DREAMers who have lived in fear can continue to come out of the shadows to share their stories and fight for their rights to live freely as Americans. Like any movement for social justice, there comes a turning point when things begin to look brighter and I believe this is it, as the President cannot take this back and will be forced to answer to those who believed in him if he is re-elected. There is still a lot of work to do to ensure that no one is labeled as "illegal", but there is no doubt that this announcement has provided hope where there was none. Will it lead to real immigration reform in favor of the DREAM Act? We will have to wait and see.

United We Dream will be holding a webinar (online seminar) to inform all DREAMers on the new "Administrative Relief" policy on Tuesday, June 19th. Sign Up Here

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