In a statement released June 15 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Obama administration announced a two-year deferred action on immigration cases involving DREAM ACT eligible youth. This comes on the heels of successive targeting of the Obama For America (OFA) campaign offices nationwide by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), who have staged hunger strikes in several states within the last two weeks. The NIYA allied group Campaign For an American Dream (CAD) has been on a cross-country walk in hopes of raising awareness around the urgent need of the DREAM ACT, legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who are currently students, graduated high school, or served in the armed forces.
On June 5, Veronica Gomez and Javier Hernandez walked into the local Denver OFA office, and initiated what would end in being a six-day hunger strike. They had only one demand, for President Obama to sign an executive order halting the deportations of DREAM ACT eligible youth. Soon after Gomez and Hernandez ended their hunger strike, several NIYA affiliated groups took their fight to OFA. OFA offices around the country were “Undoccupied” by DREAMers in the same manner that started the hunger strikes, demanding an executive order. It is hard to believe that last Friday’s announcement had little to do with the increasing militancy of undocumented American youth. Whom in recent years have unabashedly come out of the shadows, proclaiming through popular chants like “Undocumented and Unafraid!” They are demanding to be afforded one of the most basic human rights, to be recognized as people with dignity and respect.
Last Friday’s announcement shows President Obama’s willingness to step up to the challenge when pushed. This is definitely a step forward, but this announcement is not executive order, it’s a directive to the Department of Homeland Security. This fact has left many very skeptical of the effectiveness of this policy change. Directives do not hold the same legal weight that executive orders carry. After all, we have seen these types of policy directives before. You may remember the Morton Memo, which promised prosecutorial discretion for undocumented immigrants, as well as deferred action, but in the end the Morton Memo did little to halt the deportation of thousands of people. Let’s suppose that this policy change is actually respected in the same manner as an executive order, deferred action works on a case-by-case basis, meaning that there will be cases in which DREAM eligible youth will, in fact fall through the cracks of our broken immigration system, and unjustly be excluded from this policy. Simply put, DREAMers will continue to be deported.
Over the last decade we have seen congress after congress fail to pass the federal DREAM ACT or any type of legislation that resembles it. And in the current hyper polarized state of politics, it’s hard to believe that the DREAM ACT will be passed any time soon. And as it so happens to be congressional action is the only way that a pathway to citizenship can actually be established, which makes many wonder what will happen with the DREAMers that are granted deferred action and work permits after the two years have passed. Will they remain in a perpetual state of limbo? Until a pathway to citizenship is legislated DREAMers will continue to suffer the anxiety, unable to full participate in all aspects of our society.
Although there are major holes in the administration’s new policy, many still remain hopeful that this is the start of a new dialogue regarding the DREAM ACT. As for NIYA and other groups of undocumented youth, the struggle continues. Even after the announcement was made, NIYA affiliated groups around the country remained inside OFA offices promising to stay until an executive order is signed.