A Christmas Present for Only One of Millions

Victor at his Wayne State graduation. (Photo: courtesy of victorshope.org)

Sopuruchi “Victor” Chukwueke got a gift which he describes as the “best Christmas present ever.” He is a step closer to fulfilling his dream of attending medical school, thanks to a private-relief bill introduced on his behalf by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) last year which passed both Houses of Congress earlier this week.

Successful private-relief measures are rare. As Bloomberg.com reports, Chukwueke’s bill is the only one of 83 introduced in the last two years that passed both Houses of Congress. Victor’s story, which won him this privilege, is also special.

Victor has a genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis, which caused a tumor to develop on the top and right sides of his face while he was a young boy in Nigeria. Unfortunately, his condition could not be treated in his native country.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the day,” Victor said, “I went to a large teaching hospital in Nigeria and the doctor touched my face and told me there was nothing they could do. I cried and begged him to do something. I was so tired of the humiliation.”

In 2001, a missionary nun arranged for Victor, then 15 years old, to work with an American plastic surgeon who agreed to operate on him for free. Victor left his family and came to Michigan where he’s since had six major surgeries.

Operations and family separation has not kept Victor back. Last year, he earned a degree in Biochemistry and Chemical Biology from Wayne State University and has been accepted at the University of Toledo’s College of Medicine. The problem is, Victor is undocumented. Unless his immigration status is resolved, he will not be able to attend medical school. Fortunately, Sen. Levin deemed him worthy of the special bill which, once signed by the president, will grant him permanent residency.

“Victor’s amazing courage and determination exemplify much of what is so great about our country,” Levin said in a statement. “Already, his example has enriched Michigan and our nation, but I know that his contributions to our country are only beginning.”

“This confirms my opinion that only in this country can so many miraculous and wonderful things happen to someone like me,” wrote Victor on his blog.

If only hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers like Victor were granted the same miracle of permanent residency. Although the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) gives a two-year reprieve from deportations, it does not resolve the legal status of eligible immigrants.

I do not begrudge Victor’s private bill. I am happy for him, his family, and all his friends and advocates. It cannot be denied however that so many other immigrants share Victor’s courage and determination and could just as well exemplify much of what is great in our nation. There are millions of unauthorized immigrants who have contributed much to the U.S. and could give back much more if only they had the right papers. Until immigration reform which includes a path to citizenship is passed, millions of other dreams remain on hold unless some lawmaker introduces a private bill one person at a time.

Why does it have to be this way?

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds and the Huffington Post.

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Gay Groups Rally Behind Undocumented Youth

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September 13, 2012; Source: The Huffington Post

Last month, some undocumented immigrants became eligible for reprieve under the Obama administration’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program. Those who qualify are considered on a case-by-case basis and, if approved, can apply to stay and work in this country legally for up to two years. The application costs $465 and requires several background checks along with extensive financial, medical, education, and other records.

The process alone can be daunting and burdensome as it is, but the processing fee is prohibitive for many Dreamers, as undocumented youth are called, who work in the shadows and are paid accordingly.

Nearly 50 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups, under the leadership of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, have banded together and raised $75,000 to help some DACA applicants with the $465 price tag attached to the chance of pursuing the American Dream.

“When President Obama rose above politics to do the right thing for these brave young people we were moved, grateful, and wanted to help. We need these hardworking, talented youth to build a stronger future, and they need and deserve a chance to stop living in fear and on the margins,” Kate Kendell, NCLR’s director, said in a statement. “But the reality is that most of these young people will not have a chance to apply because of the cost. This fund is at the core of what our movement is about – standing together and making a difference in the lives of people who are part of our diverse community.”

Some of the Dreamers who tirelessly fought for recognition and successfully spurred the government to action are LGBT themselves.

“I am extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from so many people in our community, who believe in us and are giving us an opportunity to achieve goals that seemed completely impossible for most of our lives,” said Jorge Gutierrez. “Coming out as gay helped me come out as undocumented, which has been so much more difficult and challenging.”

To date, about 82,000 Dreamers have applied for reprieve, a far smaller number than what had been predicted by both advocates and opponents of DACA.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 17, 2012.

Gearing Up for Deferred Action

Starting Wednesday, you will be able to apply for deferred action (Photo Flickr/dreamactivistorg)

Beginning Wednesday, as many as 1.76 million young undocumented immigrants can apply for the reprieve President Obama announced in June, a program the government calls “deferred action for childhood arrivals.” Those who qualify will be considered on a case-by-case basis and, if approved, will be able to apply to stay and work in this country legally for up to two years. The application will cost $465 and require several background checks along with extensive financial, medical, education, and other records.

Requests for deferred action will be processed if the applicant is an unauthorized immigrant under the age of 31; came to the United States before her 16th birthday; has continuously resided in the country for five years; is currently in school, has graduated from high school or received GED equivalency, or is an honorably discharged veteran; has not been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor; and is determined not to be a threat to national security or public safety.

Additional details will be released on Wednesday. In the meantime, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has provided a hotline and answers to frequently asked questions on its website.

Many young immigrants welcome the opportunity to come out of the shadows and work or go to college.

Claudia Jimenez, a 19 year old Venezuelan native who has been in the U.S. since she was eight years old, shared her enthusiasm with the New York Times. Since graduating from high school last year, she has not been able to work or attend college. “Now I have something,” she said. “I can actually do something with my life. Before it was like my life was on pause.”

But others are wary. Time magazine features Karla Zapata who, while ecstatic over the prospect of getting a work permit, expressed her fears.

After years of living in the shadows, Zapata and her friends aren’t convinced it’s a good idea to give their personal information to the government when there are no guarantees that President Obama’s new program for young immigrants will last and no promise they’ll be accepted into it in the first place. Some see that ambiguity as an invitation for possible deportation.

Groups have rallied to support young immigrants like Jimenez and Zapata who hope to begin the process of legalizing their status (the program is not an amnesty and does not provide a path to citizenship).

The New York Daily News reports:

United We Dream, a network of youth-led organizations across the country, launched a national campaign with its partners last week, to offer assistance to as many of the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers eligible to take advantage of the program … The campaign, titled We Own the DREAM/¡Unete Al Sueño!, hopes to guarantee that there is a national and local infrastructure to support Dreamers who are eligible for this opportunity to remain in the United States to complete their education and contribute to the economy.

Key partners in this infrastructure include the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG-NIP).

Young people who apply for deferred action will need all the help they can get to navigate what’s likely to be a cumbersome and confusing process. Since the president’s announcement, immigrant advocates have warned about unscrupulous attorneys, notarios(public notaries) and “immigration consultants” who are out to fleece desperate immigrants and their families.

At the end of the day the deferred action program is only a temporary reprieve. Only comprehensive immigration reform through legislation will once and for all address the issue of unauthorized immigration as well as other shortcomings of our immigration system.

As November fast approaches, it is crucial to know where the presidential candidates stand on all of this. We know that President Obama supports DREAMers. What about Governor Romney?

In reaction to the administration’s June announcement, he said “I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive order of course is just a short-term matter … It could be reversed by subsequent presidents.” He may have been referring to himself after infamously declaring during the Republican primaries that he thought the DREAM Act is a mistake and he would veto it.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, August 14, 2012.

Obama’s Immigration Reprieve: ‘The Right Thing To Do,’ But Not Good Enough

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act. (Photo: Jobs with Justice/flickr)

President Obama finally acted on behalf of undocumented youth because “it is the right thing to do,” he said Friday. He announced temporary reprieve for DREAMers, as they are also known, during a press briefing at the White House Rose Garden.

“It makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans,” Mr. Obama said. “They’ve been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country—to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents—or because of the inaction of politicians.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano acted on the president’s mandate and issued a memorandum explaining how prosecutorial discretion will be used. Individuals under 30 years of age can benefit if they are able to prove that they were brought into the country when they were younger than 16; have lived here for at least five years; are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and have no criminal record or pose no threat to national security or public safety. Importantly, eligible youth will be able to apply for work permits.

This major immigration policy could affect up to 1.4 million children and young adults, based on the Pew Hispanic Center estimates. This number, almost twice the Department of Homeland Security’s own estimate of 800,000 beneficiaries, includes 700,000 immigrants between the ages 18 to 30 who are currently enrolled in school or have graduated from high school and an additional 700,000 who are under the age of 18 and are enrolled in school.

The president made it clear that “this is not amnesty, this is not immunity.  This is not a path to citizenship.  It’s not a permanent fix.  This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”

Precisely because this is a temporary measure with a path to nowhere, it leaves DREAMers with many questions and keeps them uncertain about their future. This is an order which could instantly be revoked by a President Romney after all. For all these reasons, undocumented youth and their advocates are cautiously celebrating the directive.

“The devil is in the details, and we don’t have a lot of details right now,” Daniel Rodriguez, a 26 year old DREAMer, told the New York Daily News. “We’re trying to get them. The president needs to execute his promise and implement this action immediately. We cannot wait until after the election.”

Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian American Justice Center applauded President Obama’s action but said it wasn’t enough. “While this is forward movement on our immigration policies, we can’t stop here. We call on Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and all undocumented immigrants,” Moua said.

I have no doubt that the President believes granting a reprieve to these young Americans is the right thing to do. And it is. He was also spurred by relentless pressure from the DREAMers themselves and their advocates, including very vocal ones in the Democratic Party. Moreover, this was a brilliant political move that took back the DREAM Act discourse from Marco Rubio and the GOP, locked in the Latino vote, and cornered Mitt Romney who has yet to say whether he would rescind this reprieve or not if he wins the presidency.

The President did good, but not enough. Comprehensive immigration reform has to be achieved. If does get re-elected, he and his party better deliver.

Originally posted in Feet in 2 Worlds, June 18, 2012.

Rocking the Boat, and the Vote, for a Dream

Antonio Villaraigosa

A rally for the DREAM Act in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo: Antonio Villaraigosa/flickr)

President Obama holds the power to realize the ultimate dreams of undocumented youth—but he’s choosing not to wield it.

Last week, nearly 100 immigration law professors sent a letter to the president, a former law professor himself, arguing that Mr. Obama should exercise his authority to grant relief to undocumented youth.

The academics write that their missive seeks “to explain that there is clear executive authority for several forms of administrative relief for DREAM Act beneficiaries: deferred action, parole-in-place, and deferred enforced departure.”

Deferred action can prevent an individual from being placed in deportation proceedings, suspend any proceedings that have commenced, or stay the enforcement of any existing deportation order. Parole-in-place permits a noncitizen, on a case-by-case basis and for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit, to remain lawfully in the United States. Deferred enforced departure (DED) is closely related to deferred action. Individuals covered by DED are not subject to deportation, usually for a designated period of time. Individuals, under all three situations, can also be authorized to work legally.

Hiroshi Motomura, the Susan Westerberg Prager Professor of Law at UCLA, challenged any doubt that the president can use his executive prerogative.

“There is definitely executive authority. There is not just legal authority but historical authority.  Not only that, but there is a degree of surprise [among the law professors] that there could be any doubt about this question,” Motomura said.

America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group, points out that this letter is only the latest attempt to persuade President Obama to act on behalf of undocumented youth.

In April 2011, 22 US Senators sent a letter asking Obama to provide relief for DREAMers; a month later, a number of former INS officials weighed in on the authority of the executive branch.  Last month, the United We DREAM network launched the “Right to DREAM” campaign featuring rallies, marches, and protests around the country.  Leaders from United We DREAM have also in recent days met with senior White House officials and key Congressional offices, including five Republican Senators or their staff.

In spite of the pressure from immigrant activists, the president has insisted that it is Congress’ job to pass the DREAM Act, not his. It is not difficult to figure out why Mr. Obama refuses to act, even though he very well could. With Election Day five months away, he doesn’t want to be accused of diverting his attention from the economy for an interest group, an unauthorized one at that. The Obama team wants to stay focused and not rock the boat.

Should the president rock the boat?

Providing relief to hard-working and courageous youth who are all-American in every way except their documentation will benefit Mr. Obama. A majority of Americans support the DREAM Act, which passed the House of Representatives in 2010. An executive order benefitting these deserving young women and men will fire up the base and secure the votes of independents who feel strongly about this issue.

President Obama wants to stand in stark contrast to Governor Romney. Here’s a chance to make the difference more pronounced. As Mr. Romney holds fast to his hardline immigration stance, Mr. Obama can take a principled stance for our shared future.

Originally posted for Feet in 2 Worlds, June 8, 2012.

The ARMS Act Does Not Make Sense

Marine is sworn in as a US Citizen

Marine is sworn in as a U.S. Citizen. (NYC Marines/flickr)

Republican Rep. David Rivera proposed a bill late last week which would give undocumented youth a path to citizenship.

The Adjusted Residency for Military Service Act – the ARMS Act – is a pruned version of the DREAM Act. Immigrant youth who were brought into the United States illegally as children have the chance to change their status by attending college or joining the military under the DREAM Act. Rivera’s measure only allows undocumented youth the opportunity to legalize through enlisting in military service.

“If somebody is willing to die for America, then certainly they deserve a chance at life in America,” Rivera told the Miami Herald.

Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney support the ARMS Act.

“I think there is no opposition to that part of the DREAM Act,” Gingrich told a gathering of the Latin Builder’s Association Friday. “I think it should go through immediately.”

Undocumented youth, however, are not as enthusiastic about the ARMS Act.

Juan Escalante, a DREAM Act activist, says that “the ARMS Act is the GOP ‘dream’ of the Dream Act.”

“The ARMS Act is an opportunistic attempt, in my opinion, from the GOP trying to capitalize some DREAM Act momentum,” he said.

Escalante is not the only DREAMer who opposes the military-only version of the DREAM Act.

Colorlines reporter Julianne Hing wrote that undocumented youth ask, “why it is that the only way they can serve the country they’ve grown up in is by joining the military. Undocumented youth argue that they are fully capable of serving the country in many other ways.”

Escalante, who has no objections himself to the military component of the DREAM Act, said, “It seems foolish to me that you could only be granted relief by risking your life for this country. What are those doctors, lawyers, or politician scientists such as myself, going to do?”

“Better yet, is the United States ready to deport trained professionals or students who have benefited from the public education system funded by the taxpayers?” he asked.

Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, released a statement characterizing the ARMS Act as “a distortion of the DREAM Act.” He argues that excluding legalization through higher education “would provide the wrong incentives for military enlistment during a time of war.” Some undocumented youth might sign up out of desperation and not because they are interested in military service.

Noorani also contends that “by denying immigrant students the right to higher education, America is losing out on their entrepreneurship, productivity and economic contributions.”

The ARMS Act does not make sense. It appears to be a thinly veiled GOP attempt to pander to military hawks while dangling a bittersweet fruit in front of Latino voters turned off by the immigration rhetoric spewed during the Republican presidential primaries.

There is something mercenary about the idea.

The fact of the matter is a majority of Americans support the full DREAM Act. In December 2010, the bill passed the House by a resounding vote of 216-198 but failed in the Senate by five votes.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging anyone to enlist with the military. If done voluntarily it is a noble act which should be applauded and held high as an example. But there is more than one way to serve your country.

Undocumented youth, if given the chance, would educate our children, heal our sick, strengthen our economy and yes, die for the country they consider their own.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, February 3, 2012.

DREAM Act a Nightmare for Romney

January 18, 2011; Source: DRMCAPITOL GROUP Channel | In a YouTube video uploaded by the DRM Capitol Group, an advocacy group for undocumented immigrant youth, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is confronted by one of the protesters who attended the Republican presidential candidate’s Tuesday night fundraising event at the Sheraton Hotel in New York City.

The video shows Lucy, a young woman who was brought to the United States when she was ten years old, asking the presidential hopeful if he would support the DREAM Act, a federal bill which would grant current, former, and future undocumented high-school graduates and GED recipients a pathway to U.S. citizenship through college or the armed services. “I already said, across the country, I would veto the DREAM Act,” the GOP frontrunner answered. “I already said, across the country, I would veto the Dream Act” the GOP frontrunner answered.

 

This is consistent with Romney’s hardline immigration stance which he reiterated at the GOP presidential debate on Monday.

“I absolutely believe that those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism or a special route to becoming permanent residents or citizens that’s not given to those people who have stayed in line legally. I just think we have to follow the law. I think that’s the right course,” he said when asked by Fox News political analyst Juan Williams whether he was alienating Latino voters. “I would veto the DREAM Act,” Romney said, if it included provisions that stated “if they go to school here long enough [and] get a degree here they can become permanent residents.” After applause from the audience, Romney added, “I think that’s a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist those who come here illegally ultimately return home, apply, and get in line with everyone else.”

The DRM Capitol Group, which released a statement recounting Romney’s interaction with Lucy, is now collecting signatures on its Web site to give Romney “the proof that he needs to support the DREAM Act in order to be even considered by Latinos.”

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, January 18, 2012.

Reasonable State Responses to Immigration

dream act activist

While federal legislation stalls, some states are passing their own DREAM Acts. (Photo: dreamactivist/flickr)

Most of us have been transfixed by Alabama’s immigration law which surpasses all other state laws in its harshness and stringency.

The Department of Justice asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to stop enforcement of Alabama’s HB 56, concerned that it could lead to racial discrimination. Advocacy groups also filed a separate appeal, citing the law’s immediate aftermath.

State immigration bills such as those passed in Alabama, Georgia and Arizona negatively impact not only immigrants and their families but society in general. They have wide-ranging externalities including lost productivity and revenues. They also have long-term implications for the well-being of our nation.

Fortunately, there are some states bucking the trend and providing more rational, productive and humane solutions to our broken immigration system.

A couple of weeks ago, Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education, encouraged by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, approved the state’s version of the DREAM Act which will allow undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition beginning September 2012. Students without papers must show that they graduated from a Rhode Island high school which they attended for at least three years or received a GED certificate from the state. They must also sign an affidavit promising that they will pursue U.S. citizenship as soon as possible.

Last weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the second half of his state’s DREAM Act. The first half, enacted in July, sanctioned private scholarships and loans for undocumented college students. These students, with the passage of the second bill, can now pay in-state tuition rates and apply for state aid.

The state DREAM Acts of Rhode Island and California, like other state versions of the stalled federal initiative to improve the prospects of young undocumented immigrants, does not include a path to citizenship. But they do allow motivated and able young people—in whom states have already invested public education—to obtain a college degree, earn better wages, pay taxes, contribute to the economy and give back to society.

Last Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring state agencies to make vital forms and instructions available in the six most common non-English languages spoken in the state. State agencies including the Office of Children & Family Services, Corrections, the health department, motor vehicles and welfare agencies will now have to provide free interpretation and translation services to assist the 13 percent of New Yorkers who do not speak English as their primary language. Cuomo argued that lawsuits and legislation have failed to address the problem and that access to state services can be a matter of life and death for some immigrants.

Finally, last week, the city commissioners of Dayton, Ohio voted to turn their city into an “immigrant friendly” destination with the explicit goal of replenishing the city’s shrinking immigrant community. The “Welcome Dayton” program seeks to reduce the barriers to immigrants who want to open new businesses and thereby spur investment in immigrant neighborhoods. The initiative aims to help immigrants by providing adults with ESL and literacy courses; actively involving local youth in community building; and encouraging cross-cultural events among Dayton’s cultural and arts organizations.

In California, Rhode Island, New York and Dayton, Ohio, rather than marginalizing immigrants and treating them as scapegoats for our difficult times, government is finding ways to integrate them. These state and city leaders see their immigrant populations as economically integral and as contributing members of society. They acknowledge that immigrants are crucial to our nation’s vitality and future.

One hopes that other states will be less reactionary—ala Alabama—and follow such reasonable responses to immigration.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 12, 2011.

Maryland’s DREAM Act Deferred

Washington’s inability to reform the country’s immigration system has left state lawmakers little choice but to address constituents’ immigration concerns themselves. The National Council of State Legislatures reports that during the first half of this year, 1,592 immigration-related bills and resolutions were introduced in the 50 states and Puerto Rico. That’s 16 percent more than in the same period last year. Most of these initiatives dealt with law enforcement, identification/driver’s licenses and employment.

Nine states went farther, though, passing education laws, mainly related to in-state tuition eligibility and financial assistance for immigrant populations. In May, Maryland’s General Assembly approved its version of the DREAM Act, which Gov. Martin O’Malley promptly signed.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced a decade ago by U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and has since been introduced regularly but has yet to pass Congress. The statute would allow undocumented immigrants under 35 who came to the US before age 16 and earned a high school degree or its equivalent to apply for legal permanent resident status after living here for at least five years. Then, if they complete at least two years of college or military service and abide by the laws, they can apply for permanent legal status after a six-year wait.

Maryland’s DREAM Act is narrower and offers no path to citizenship. It merely establishes in-state tuition eligibility for undocumented youth who went to a state high school for at least three years and can prove that their parents pay taxes. After a couple of years in community college, these young immigrants can transfer to a public university.

Maryland’s DREAM Act was to have become law on July 1. But opponents managed to gather over 100,000 signatures for a petition, almost double the number needed to halt its implementation. The law will now be put up to a vote in a referendum in November 2012.

Those who signed the petition contend that Maryland shouldn’t and can’t afford to subsidize the education of undocumented youth. The Act’s supporters accuse the petition’s authors of using misleading information to get people to sign up and argue that the state’s DREAM Act grants undocumented students only some of the rights enjoyed by other high school graduates.

An estimated 65,000 undocumented youth graduate from American high schools each year, a fraction from Maryland schools.

Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services, the research arm of the General Assembly, calculates the state’s DREAM Act will cost $778,000 in fiscal year 2014 and rise to $3.5 million in fiscal year 2016. This is relatively miniscule compared to the state’s total higher ed expenditures, around $5 billion annually from fiscal years 2009 through 2011.

During economic hard times like ours, it’s understandable why some are fighting any budgetary outlay for Maryland’s DREAM Act.  But, over time, investing in educating Maryland’s undocumented youth could pay off.

The state has already seen these kids through years of schooling, and affordable college helps ensure a productive and educated workforce for Maryland and the rest of the US. College-educated immigrants would get better paying jobs and pay more in state and local taxes, and their lifetime contributions would more than cover the cost of Maryland’s subsidies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with college degrees in 2009 had median weekly earnings of $1,137, almost twice the average of what those with only a high school diploma earned. The unemployment rate for college-educated workers was 4.6 percent, 10 points lower than the rate for less educated workers.

Denying these young people the opportunity for a bright future could disenfranchise and marginalize them. And since they came here as children, didn’t choose to be undocumented, and consider themselves Americans, they are highly unlikely to leave willingly, especially in light of the Obama administration’s new policy which suspends deportation of undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety.

With tuition subsidy costs relatively low, and the life-long stakes high for the immigrants and the rest of society high, investing in immigrant youth through higher education can only be to everyone’s benefit.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog, August 22, 2011.

Confusion and Frustration Over Obama’s Deportation Policy

A protest in favor of the DREAM ActThe Obama administration’s latest immigration move—classifying young undocumented immigrants as low-priority for deportation—has caused celebration in some circles, consternation in others and a whole lot of confusion for undocumented individuals who have been desperate for a resolution of their situations.

The other day, a gay man asked me if it’s now okay to apply for a green card for his partner.  Yesterday, an immigration attorney friend told me that she was approached by an undocumented immigrant who wanted to know if he should turn himself in to immigration authorities and benefit from this new policy.

The simple answer to both is “no.” Yet this is not evident for most people whose eyes glaze over the labyrinthine U.S. immigration system and whose anxiety and despair cloud better judgment.

Melissa Crow, Director of the Legal Action Center at the American Immigration Council, stressed during a briefing last Monday that “DHS has also been clear that last week’s announcements do not impact individuals who are not currently in removal proceedings. Thus, ‘DREAM’ students and others unlawfully present in the United States, but not in removal proceedings should not actively seek out the immigration authorities.  Since there are no guarantees that an individual removal case will be administratively closed, anyone who seeks to be placed in removal proceedings could end up being deported.”

It is also remains unclear how this new policy will play out in practice.

How long will it take to process 300,000 cases? How many ICE lawyers are assigned to these cases? Who will sit in the working group tasked to develop the criteria that determines who gets to stay? Who are the government agents who will determine the fate of 300,000 people and their families? How will their personal sentiments towards immigrants influence their decisions?

Things would be a whole lot simpler and less confusing if the Obama administration granted a categorical reprieve and path to citizenship for certain groups of undocumented immigrants such as DREAMers, highly-skilled persons and foreign-born gay partners and spouses—those whom some conservatives deem a bit more acceptable and “worthy” than the great unwashed laborers who only produce our food, clean our homes and care for our children.

But this would not fly in Washington. So for now and the foreseeable future, we continue to slog through our morass of an confusing and broken immigration system.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, August 25, 2011.