Yesterday, I had the privilege to speak to many DREAMers who came from all over the country to lobby Congress to pass the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform. And with activist glee and an appreciation for pageantry, the DREAMers held a mock graduation symbolizing their efforts to educate themselves and be a part of the American Dream. They wore brightly colored T-shirts emblazoned with “Undocumented and unafraid,” and carried signs that quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. They were there for a deeply serious purpose and seemed to be having a blast. There was Mohammad Abdollahi with a megaphone in his face and Prerna Lal furiously tweeting, Instagramming and updating Facebook and hundreds of others taking photographs with their traveling companions and new friends.
The graduation was held at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill and I knew it was my kind of church when I saw the rainbow flag on the outside. I had been asked to speak about the new policy announced by the Obama administration to provide deferred action to many people who fall within the general terms of the DREAM Act. I was on guard and expected to hear a lot of skepticism about the policy. After all, many DREAMers have quite reasonably grown guarded after years of being batted about like a political football. But what I found were a group of magnificent young people who simply want to get on with their lives. They were less concerned about the motives of the policy and the impact on Marco Rubio’s effort to get a scaled back version of the DREAM Act (a plan that was going nowhere- speaking of cynical), than they were on getting driver’s licenses, furthering their education, getting jobs and paying taxes.
I tried to encourage people to give the policy a chance. There are a lot of people out there saying that applying for deferred action is a trap. This argument goes something like this: Obama did this for political reasons and not because he cares about undocumented youth. Because it simple expedience, he is not invested in making it a success. Without strong executive follow through, it will be left to the DHS officials on the ground, whose resistance to any pro-immigrant policy undermined the prosecutorial discretion memos from last year resulting in a dismal record of a failure to exercise prosecutorial discretion. And since there is likely to be little follow through, the argument continues, immigrants are giving their data to DHS, which can, in turn, use that data to seek their removal.
I think this view is wrong. I think that the administration desperately needs this program to work and has learned from the failure of prosecutorial discretion. The administration has learned that such matters can not be left to the judgment of the DHS officials on the ground and that the administration and its appointees within DHS will place a very heavy hand on the field. In addition, a failure to apply for deferred action due to a fear of removal seems antithetical to the immigrant spirit, particularly those of the DREAMers, whose t shirts state “undocumented and unafraid.” Immigrants as a group are risk-takers, people who are willing to take risks in order to better their and their families’ lives. They risk death in the desert or in the cargo hold of a ship to give themselves a chance to realize their potential. DREAMers have engaged in civil disobedience and been arrested across the country agitating for their rights. They have announced themselves as undocumented on the web. This does not seem like a group of people that would be afraid of the potential for DHS to use the deferred action program as a means of identifying those illegally in the country. Even if that were the intention of DHS, the impact of placing the over 1 million potential DREAMers into removal proceedings would grind the machinery of removal to a halt and create massive political and social turmoil. Right now, final hearings in the Immigration Court in Arlington Virginia are being scheduled in late 2014. The influx of thousands of additional people into removal proceedings will only exacerbate this serious problem.
By applying and receiving deferred action, DREAMers will further integrate themselves into the American community. They will have driver’s licenses, social security numbers, and jobs. They will be able to rent apartments, buy homes, pay more taxes, and will marry and have children. As roots grow, DREAMers will be harder to pull up and the appetite for the social disruption of deporting this group of DREAMers will decrease exponentially. Congress will have to act as it did with NACARA. Dream Act deferred action will turn this amorphous movement into a political constituency and will make DREAMers harder to ignore in the coming years.
That all being said, there are some people who should not seek deferred action. Anyone with any type of criminal conviction should see a competent immigration lawyer. Individuals who have provided misinformation to the government at some point in their past should consult with a lawyer. If in doubt, seek counsel. The American Immigration Lawyers Association is a great place to start in finding good counsel. Also, DreamACTivist will also be providing referrals. Finally, pretty soon, Benach Collopy LLP will be launching www.dreamactdeferredaction.com to serve as a hub for all things related to deferred action for DREAMers and to provide timely and accurate information you can trust.