Photo: Courtesy of One Michigan
Whether it was
progressive policymaking or a shrewd political move, President Barack Obama’s
announcement to stop deportations for some undocumented immigrants in June was
hailed as victory by immigrant rights activists. Since the 2001 introduction of
the federal “DREAM Act” bill, which would grant higher education and a path to
citizenship for undocumented youth, many of these youth have organized one of
the strongest online and offline movements in American history. They staged sit-ins in
June at Obama campaign offices around the country, putting additional pressure
on the Administration and later resulted in Obama’s deferred action
But despite this
historic milestone in immigration policy, many undocumented immigrants and
their lawyers have now expressed skepticism at whether
they should even apply for the government’s protection from deportation.
This month, the
Department of Homeland Security will release additional details on how to
apply for the deferred action program. What we know so far is that applications
will be considered on a case-by-case basis for those who meet specific criteria,
such as completing education or military service, meeting a certain number of
years of U.S. residency, reaching a certain age, and having a clean criminal
record. Those who are granted deferred action get a guarantee that they will
not be deported for two years, with an option to extend that period.
Regardless of this promise, many
eligible undocumented youth still remain in danger of eventual deportation. For
instance, Daniela Pelaez, a high school valedictorian from Florida, found out that she
may still be deported as she
prepares for her freshman year at Dartmouth College this fall, with immigration authorities promising only
to hold off for two years before initiating deportation proceedings again.
The feeling that deferred action is only temporary has caused frustration among
immigrant rights advocates and undocumented immigrant communities, who continue
to be on alert.
Compounding this is the
uncertainty of the level of protection the government is prepared to provide if
people do come out of the shadows as undocumented or out-of-status, which
refers to those who came legally but then overstayed their permit.
think there are many uncertainties within the immigration communities because
it is a major election year,” said Keish Kim, a co-founder of the Georgia
Undocumented Youth Alliance. “There are still many questions that are left
unanswered at this point. With that said, I do want to recognize that it is a
positive first step; and I plan to make a final decision on whether to apply or
not, once more details on application process are released in August.”
action serves as only a temporary solution to our
nation’s problem of undocumented immigration. Immigrant youth hesitate to apply
for fear that if Obama is not re-elected, they may fall to the whims of Mitt
Romney, who has vowed to veto the DREAM Act should it ever reach his desk as president.
Uy, a partner at the Law Office of Lien L. Uy who handles immigration cases,
said that under a different administration, deferred action could be moot.
“As it [deferred action]
is a policy change, a new administration could simply reverse the policy,” Uy
said. “Further, there is no guarantee as to what will happen to the families of
eligible students, as the guidance does not contemplate what the government
will do with the information gathered from the eligible students in their
applications. As such, many students and youth are afraid to apply at this
“There is some nervousness about applying,”
said Chris Punongbayan, deputy director of the Asian Law Caucus (ALC). “A lot
of concerns stem around confidentiality protections if their applications are
will host legal consultation clinics for those interested in applying for
deferred action. Likewise, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center recently released a FAQ in English and several Asian languages, and will offer more once
the actual application process and guidelines become publicly available around
deferred action, like the DREAM Act, are only partial solutions to our
country's broken immigration system. While some DREAM Act advocates have fought
for a stand-alone DREAM Act bill for years, others believe that these temporary
“band aids” are not enough to provide a solution to the estimated 12 million
undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.
Administrative and legislative solutions for the remaining
undocumented population, which includes parents of undocumented youth and those
who do not qualify for deferred action or a possible DREAM Act, continue to be
biggest barrier to a comprehensive solution still lies among conservatives, who
believe that giving work permits to undocumented immigrants is a form of amnesty
that will eventually lead to legalization of their “illegal” status.
rights advocates, on the other hand, want deferred action to lead to more
needs to be placed on Obama, Romney and all political leaders to see the
benefits of immigrants and why it’s nonsensical to try to deport undocumented
immigrants,” said University of San Francisco Professor Bill Ong Hing. “We need comprehensive immigration reform from Congress,
especially since the Supreme Court in the Arizona SB 1070 case made clear that
states cannot pass their own immigration laws.”
battles over federal immigration policy still continue to yield a patchwork of
immigration laws. Without
a comprehensive solution, distrust of the government will remain high in
undocumented immigrant communities.
Oshiro, senior staff attorney at the Asian American Justice Center, discussed the urgent
need for a federal legislative solution.
would include successful passage of the DREAM Act and other common sense fixes
for our immigration system, such as reducing the backlogs in the family system
and creating a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” Oshiro
said. “The Administration and the courts have limited powers and ultimately,
Congress is the only body that has the power -- and ultimately the
responsibility -- to meaningfully improve our immigration system.”
Learn more about the
DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform: