One Small Step for Immigration, One Giant Leap for DREAMers

In a stunning turn of events, the Obama administration has announced its intention to grant deferred action to many individuals brought to the United States as children, known by many as DREAMers because of their potential eligibility in the event the federal DREAM Act were ever to be passed.
Deferred action is a a choice on the part of the government to delay the removal of an individual. It is a form of prosecutorial discretion, and does not confer lawful immigration status, at least not in the same sense as lawful permanent residence, citizenship, temporary protected status, etc.
Individuals receiving deferred action are eligible to receive employment authorization valid for the period of deferred action, which in this case is two years.
In a memo released today, and accessible here, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the following criteria for any individuals who consider applying:
  1. The individual must have come to the U.S. prior to turning 16 years old;
  2. The individual must have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five (5) years before today, June 15, 2012;
  3. The individual must be in the U.S. today, the date of the announcement;
  4. The individual is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a GED, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
  5. The individual has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety; and
  6. The individual is not over the age of thirty.
The new policy seems to apply both to individuals who are currently in removal proceedings as well as those who are not. Individuals would be able to apply for the relief, although the exact process one would have to go through is still uncertain. DHS has stated a goal of establishing the policy within the next sixty (60) days.
I am cautiously optimistic about this whole program. There are a number of reasons to be suspicious. This is still the administration responsible for deporting more people than any other in history, more than one million in its first three years with a goal of 400,000 for this year.
Other attempts by this administration to introduce more prosecutorial discretion into the immigration enforcement process over the last year have been slow to implement and have brought about mixed results.
Another somewhat concerning fact is that almost as soon as the policy was announced, government officials were out and about declaring that this is not amnesty, and that everything would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, indicating a large degree of discretion on the part of government officials reviewing the applications.
Another point of concern is what happens if a new president takes office and then revokes this policy? Now everyone who has taken advantage of it is in a vulnerable position with the government knowing who they are and where they live.
Truth be told, this is no path to citizenship. It's not even a path to legal permanent residency. There is nothing beneficiaries can do to extend this benefit to their family members who do not qualify and who are still possibly subject to deportation.
Still, the constant fear of being deported at any moment that so many hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of individuals live every day may very well be done away with by today's announcement.
Individuals who have been unable to work, obtain a driver's license, go to college and other necessary things may now actually be able to move forward with their lives and obtain a sense of stability.
Overall, today's announcement is something to be celebrated. To many of us who have been wrapped up in the immigration debate for several years and whose cynicism tells us to be cautious, this may seem like a small step, but for those who have grown up American in every single way but on paper, this new policy has the potential to change their world.
There is still much to fight for when it comes to immigration reform, but that fight may have just become a little easier (or at least less risky) for some of the bravest warriors our cause has.
Time will tell how it all plays out.
Below is a collection of information and reactions from various media, activist and governmental sources on today's big news:
DHS Memo
USA Today
Reform Immigration for America
Define American?
Color Lines


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