A new beginning for DREAMers and a new challenge for Congress
President Obama began his announcement in the Rose Garden talking about undocumented youth or “DREAMers.” “They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” He talked about how they been here most of their lives, done everything right, worked hard, even graduated at the top of their classes, all to be deported to a country whose language they may not even speak. “Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is moving to lift this shadow from their lives.”
Under the president’s direction, DREAMers, like me, will no longer be subject to deportation and will be eligible to apply for working permits if they are younger than 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, attending college or served in the military. Indeed, for many of us, working permits are unnecessary as we have gone the entrepreneurial route and started businesses that in turn are creating jobs for U.S. citizens. Even though the DHS announcement is not the DREAM Act, the new immigration policy will make huge differences in the lives of those affected; it will allow us to fully take part in the US economy.
At the same time, the president’s announcement energized a Latino electorate that had been dispirited by Obama’s record on immigration. According to a Latino Decision poll conducted over the weekend, 49 percent of Latino voters in battle ground states said the policy made them more enthusiastic about Obama, compared to 14 percent who were less enthusiastic. Over the weekend, I received scores of phone calls, Facebook messages, emails of friends and family members, of which all are U.S. citizens, telling me that “Obama has given them a reason to believe in him.”
But the announcement is a first step and we will press to ensure that it is properly implemented. And it is now up to Congress to take on immigration. It is up to Republicans to respond with substantive discussions rather than with political talking points. Unquestionably, Senator Rubio’s (R-Fla.) legislative proposal to provide relief for DREAMers validated the president’s shift in immigration policy. Senator Rubio, Senator Hutchinson (R-Texas), and others working behind the scenes should not be discouraged from moving forward with their legislative efforts. Through their spirited efforts, they demonstrated that Congress and Republicans can come together to resolve problems if they elevate above the uncompromising climate that is rampant today. Moving forward, Senate and House Republicans can, at the very least, affirmatively recognize that our immigration system is grossly inadequate to meet the country’s economic and technological needs.
Nevertheless, because of the environment of inaction, the president’s actions are easily justified and, despite what many Republicans may say at the moment, are within his constitutional authority.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney on “Face the Nation” repeatedly refused to respond to whether he would rescind the order. His position in the primaries has left him in an untenable position to shift to a pro-immigrant rhetoric. Romney claimed that stop-gap measures are not the way to go, but forgets the frustration with the Republican filibuster that stopped the DREAM Act from passing Congress the last time it came up. Mitt Romney’s silence demonstrates his visible struggle to choose between further alienating Latino voters and alienating conservatives who reject any policies providing immigration relief. Mitt Romney implicitly appears to choose the latter.
For leaders like Jose Antonio Vargas, whose immigration article graces the cover of the latest TIME Magazine and has pushed so hard for our community, the moment was bittersweet as he barely missed the age cap. It’s hard to fully describe all the facets of life that undocumented students struggle with, simply because we are without immigration status. For all those who have been waiting, in some cases decades, for the DREAM Act, this administrative order is a long-overdue breath of fresh air, and a signal that they can truly move on with their lives. We applaud Obama’s political courage but there is still much work to do, for those like myself who must still fight for citizenship, and for those like Jose who have been left out of this step.DREAMers’s see the order as one of many steps which must be taken to come to an immigration policy which reflects the intelligence and compassion of the American people, of which I am one.