We Welcome Promise to Stop the Deportation of (Some) Young Immigrants
We welcome President Obama’s decision to stop the deportations of over a million immigrant youth who may be eligible under terms described today. We hope this will be a first step towards ending the punishment of all undocumented immigrants and the separation of families.
We congratulate the tens of thousands of youths, their families, friends and allies who have fought for over a decade for relief from deportation, initially through the proposal of the “DREAM Act” and more recently with calls for an executive order by President Obama. Without a doubt, the very visible actions of young undocumented youth and students in recent years, “coming out” as undocumented, leading nationwide actions and mobilizations, has been critical to this evolution of policy. June 14th, 2012, the TIME magazine cover story focused on young undocumented immigrants: “We are Americans – Just not legally.”
Not lost is the fact that Obama’s announcement comes as news polls are showing that Latino voters may not be as eager to cast their vote for him this November as they overwhelmingly did in 2008. The news also comes as we await the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s SB1070 — a ruling expected to further bolster state-level policing and racial profiling of immigrants.
This is not legalization. This policy will provide temporary relief from deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants. Sadly, many will miss this opportunity; younger siblings and parents can still be deported. This will not end the record-level deportations – over 400,000 people a year — by the Obama Administration. The president even reaffirmed his commitment to immigration enforcement, including having “more boots on the ground” at the U.S.-Mexico border than any other administration. Numerous enforcement initiatives continue to identify, detain and deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible. While the Administration repeats that it is only seeking out the “most dangerous criminal” immigrants, we know that people who are caught driving without a driver’s license are being deported, as is an immigrant parent who has re-crossed the border in order to reunite with children here in the U.S.
Last June, the Administration had announced in another enforcement reform that it would use “prosecutorial discretion” to provide an opportunity for “low priority” immigrants with deportation orders to have their cases reviewed and deportations deferred. Since then, less than two percent of the reviewed cases have been closed, and community members continue to be detained and deported, raising concern about the promise of today’s (June 15th), announcement and the actual implementation.
Under this process, young undocumented immigrants must apply for eligibility, including submission of fingerprints. The deferred action from deportation, which will be considered on a case-by-case basis, lasts for two years, when it will expire and a renewal request may be made. Those granted the deferral may apply for work authorization, to be granted “based on economic necessity for employment.” Given the punitive enforcement environment, there will certainly be well-founded fears about coming forward to request deferred action, and there will be a need for widespread community education about this policy. It will also require vigilant monitoring as it goes into effect to ensure that it is done fairly.
The announcement is sure to draw fire from the Right. Congressional Republicans have held up passage of the DREAM Act for years, and even during Obama’s Rose Garden statement, a heckler in the audience was shouting about these immigrants taking jobs away from Americans.
According to the Department of Homeland Security fact sheet, in order to be eligible for deferred action from deportation, individuals must:
● Have come to the U.S. before the age of 16;
● Have resided continuously in the U.S. prior to June 15 and be present in the U.S. on this date;
● Currently be in school, have graduated from high school, have a GED certificate or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or U.S. armed forces;
● Have not been convicted of “a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;”
● Not be above the age of thirty.
The serious misdemeanor offenses could include one DUI, one marijuana possession, domestic violence or assault charge.
As significant as this development may be, the need to provide formal relief from deportation — and the opportunity to legalize status — remains for over 10 million other undocumented people in this country. This deferral from deportation is not legislated, and as such, can be taken away by administrative action. Immigrant workers, families, communities will not be safe and economically viable without legislated immigration reforms that provide fair avenues for legal status and which will remove the punitive enforcement programs that continue to traumatize communities and separate families.