President Obama announced an immigration policy overhaul Friday that may help over 800,000 young undocumented citizens avoid deportation from the United States.
This change allows for two years of “deferred action” during which those who qualify can apply for work authorization, earn driver’s licenses and process other types of documents needed for legal status.
“Now, these are young people who study in our schools,” said Obama. “They play in our neighborhoods. They’re friends with our kids. They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one—on paper.”
The policy has some boundaries. Those seeking eligibility must have entered the U.S. before they turned 16, lived in the United States for at least five years with no criminal record, and must be no older than 30. They are also required to have either a high school diploma, or be currently in school or serving in the military.
Opponents have criticized the move as a regulatory version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which has been repeatedly stalled in Congress and currently has no version under consideration.
The Obama Administration estimates that hundreds of thousands of young immigrants could benefit from the policy, while other organizations, such as the Pew Hispanic Center, have estimated that it may be up to 1.4 million.
Douglas Carranza, Central American studies professor and program coordinator at CSUN, says it is a “step” in the right direction.
“I believe it will alleviate the pain and suffering of young people who have been working hard without compensation to live here,” he said. “But it doesn’t solve the problem. There are some unanswered questions regarding legal issues. It’s not clear.”
Adrian Gonzalez, a deaf studies major and senior at CSUN who also works with the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Dream Team, said this announcement is a “nice graduation gift.”
“This is a time to celebrate,” he said. “But this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.”
The next steps involve educating those who may qualify for deferral and direct them to the proper paperwork, Gonzalez said.
“We need to take immediate steps to make sure the right information is out there.”
Some organizations, such as United We Dream, are currently offering webinars and instructions in order to save those interested from false or misleading information regarding qualifications.
Being an undocumented student himself, Gonzalez notes this as a personal victory. Last fall, he was involved in an act of civil disobedience related to immigrants rights and risked deportation when he was arrested.
His parents, who were both deported about four years ago, have been wary of his activism, but Gonzalez believes the actions of student organizations made a significant impact on the new policy.
“This really was a student-led movement,” he said. “We made the policy change but we know that this is not enough. This is just starting the momentum.”
Students around the nation have been involved in sit-ins, protests and hunger strikes in support of the DREAM Act ever since its 2001 debut.
Introduced as a bipartisan effort against the deportation of young immigrants of good moral standing, the DREAM Act shares many similar themes as Obama’s policy change, however it primarily deals with giving residency status to those pursuing higher education or military service.
Obama’s announcement also trumps a largely unheard of Republican version, sometimes called “DREAM Act Lite,” led by Senator Marco Rubio. This version would have focused solely on young undocumented students pursuing higher education.
Critics of Obama’s new immigration policy question its timing. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the announcement was purely political.
“If he really wanted to make a solution that dealt with these kids or with illegal immigration in America, then this is something he would have taken up in his first 3 1/2 years, not in his last few months,” Romney told “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Other opponents, such as immigration reform organizations like Numbers USA, have publicly denounced the new policy, saying it will only increase an already high unemployment rate as more work permits are granted.