I woke up yesterday to the following text from one of my DREAMer students: “Have you seen the news???! I am speechless!” Since it was 7 a.m., and I had just returned from presenting on the subject of undocumented students at the International Diversity Conference in Canada the night before, no–I had not seen the news. When I did, I too was speechless. I was also relieved, teary-eyed, excited, and just plain happy.
I realize that this policy shift is not perfect; it does not provide a legal pathway to citizenship or permanent residency. However, it does provide deportation relief to approximately 800,000 young adults who were brought to this country at a young age, a decision that they held little, if any, power to influence. It also provides them with the ability to work legally, to provide for themselves and their families, and to contribute to the U.S. via tax revenue.
This means that my undocumented students no longer have to worry about the immigration raids that sometimes surprise us all with their police-state ferocity. This means that my undocumented students can breathe a little easier when they go through airport security on their way to the colleges they attend. This means that maybe, just maybe, the hard work and advocacy efforts of all DREAMers will pay off, and we may finally see the federal DREAM Act passed.
When the DREAM Act was originally introduced in 2001, it enjoyed support from both parties (Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, first introduced it, along with Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois). But politicians have recently employed immigration as a wedge issue, using undocumented young adults as pawns in their vitriolic, rhetorical games.
It is time we place bi-partisan politics aside when it comes to immigration reform. The United States was founded on the belief that all human beings are born with “inalienable rights — that among these rights are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We, as a nation, cannot expect other countries to accept democracy as the highest form of government until we do what is just in our own country. If politicians fail to pass the DREAM Act, they will allow a permanent underclass to form and languish in the United States, a notion that runs counter to the core of our democratic ideals.
Undocumented young adults should not have to suffer indefinitely from the choice their parents made to bring them to this country. They had no power to affect that decision at that time, nor do they have a current legal pathway to allow them to change their undocumented statuses. For all intents and purposes, these young adults are Americans. They want to join the military, attend college, have a meaningful career, and contribute to the United States. While today’s policy change is a step in the right direction, and many individuals, including myself, enthusiastically applaud President Obama’s decision, it still leaves DREAMers in legal limbo land. It is time to pass the DREAM Act and give undocumented young adults the opportunity to become full, legal residents and citizens of the United States.