The Department of Homeland Security will grant immunity from deportation to so-called “DREAMers,” undocumented immigrants brought to America as children, and give them work permits to stay in the country.
The Administration’s standing in the Latino community has taken a serious hit from the continued record deportations over the past few yeas. Activists have castigated the Obama White House for the Secure Communities program and the 400,000 deportations annually, which have separated families and even removed immigrants brought to this country as children, who know no other place to call home. The DREAM Act would have put students or members of the military in this situation on a path to citizenship, but it failed in the Senate in 2010. Since then, the movement for relief for DREAMers has grown ever stronger. The cover of Time Magazine this week features 35 undocumented DREAM students, led by Jose Antonio Vargas, an award-winning journalist who came out as an undocumented immigrant last year. Stories of talented students, including a valedictorian, getting caught up in the deportation web have shocked and disappointed the Latino community. The White House was feeling the heat for what the community describes as broken promises on immigration and a punitive set of policies.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security announced they would enact a top-to-bottom review of all deportations, with an eye to prioritizing deportations for only violent criminals and repeat offenders. But the results were meager: only 2% of all deportations were avoided under the reviews. After a torrent of criticism, DHS chief Janet Napolitano released a memorandum today outlining prosecutorial discretion guidelines for the future. Napolitano writes that “As a general matter, these individuals lacked the intent to violate the law … additional measures are necessary to ensure that our enforcement resources are not expended on these low priority cases but are instead appropriately focused on people who meet our enforcement priorities.”
To qualify for this protection, an individual must have come to America under the age of sixteen; has continuously resided in the US for the last five years; is currently either in school or the military, or has graduated from high school or been discharged from the armed forces; has not been convicted of a felony or a serious misdemeanor; and is not above the age of thirty. Immigrants in the deportation system have 60 days to prove their eligibility under this standard.
In addition to protection from deportation, these individuals will be able to apply for work permits during the period of deferred action, which is indefinite. However, Napolitano writes that “this memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or path to citizenship,” and adds that “DHS cannot provide any assurance that relief will be granted in all cases.”
The clear issue here is whether this announcement will translate to real relief. Latino activists have been burned by the deportation reviews and are probably more interested in verification that this latest proposal is working. ICE has been known to basically ignore memoranda like this.
But it’s clear that election-year pressure has led to some relief in this case. The fact that President Obama will speak before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials next week surely played a role.
If it works, this temporary but significant relief for DREAM students is definitely welcome. I’ll have reactions from some of the leaders in this movement as the day goes on.
…Given the fact that this doesn’t grant any permanent immigration status (and you can’t by executive order, this is about the most that can be done), the announcement most resembles the alternative DREAM Act being organized by Republican Marco Rubio.
…Jose Antonio Vargas, the most recent face of the DREAM Act, the man on the cover of Time Magazine this week, is actually 31, and thus ineligible for the protections under this policy.
…immigration advocates are pleased by the policy shift. Here’s the full statement from Frank Sharry of America’s Voice:
This is huge. As a result of today’s decision, hundreds of thousands of young people who are American in all but paperwork will have the opportunity to live freely, work legally, and contribute to the country they love. The President is right to step up and protect these young people, because this expansion of existing policy is the only viable path to meaningful relief for Dreamers this year.
The DREAM Act started over 10 years ago as a bipartisan common sense bill. Over the years, Republicans who supported it in the past, including original co-sponsor Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have become opponents as the Republican Party has lurched to the right. And despite efforts by some in the GOP, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), to reposition the GOP on the issue, House Republicans have made it clear that any version of DREAM would not pass the House this year.
We salute the President and his team for this bold move to make sure our immigration system includes rather than deports young people who have done everything right and nothing wrong, and only want to contribute to the country they call home.