Immigration Reform: Obama Administration Takes Steps to Make Dream Act Dreams into Realities

Immigration reform is certainly a hot- and hugely divisive- topic in the heated debates running up to the 2012 election. This is no surprise, as immigration reform has long been a point of contention and worry for the citizens, be they legal or illegal, of this country. There are extremists on both sides of the immigration reform debate, from those who would deport every single person who is here illegally immediately, no questions asked, to those who would deport no one and give everyone on American soil, legal or illegal, full citizenship just for making it into the country alive. Obviously, neither of these plans is a good one for immigration reform, immigrants, or American citizens, and there are certainly many ideas between those two extremes that would go a long way toward repairing a seemingly hopelessly broken system. Just this past week, the Obama Administration took a huge step toward attempting to solve the problem of immigration reform in America by announcing that it will be stopping deportations of Dream Act eligible young people, often referred to as DREAMers,  and will begin to grant work permits to them on a case by case basis.
The Dream Act was an immigration reform solution that took into account the fact that many people here in America illegally were brought here as adolescents, small children, or even infants, and often had little or no choice in the matter. They often know no home and no life besides the American one, and certainly have nowhere and no one to go to in their countries of origin. It would be unreasonable and inhumane to send these children to live in less developed countries, with no resources, money, or families, and any immigration reform solution must allow for these young people who, through no fault of their own, have come to find themselves living here illegally, to pursue futures in America without fear of deportation. That is where the Dream Act’s version of immigration reform comes in. Unfortunately, while it passed the House of Representatives in 2010, the Dream Act died in the Senate after an attempt to revive it after a Republican filibuster of the bill. However, this recent immigration reform policy revives its sentiments in an attempt to protect young illegal immigrants who would be Dream Act eligible from removal proceedings.
Make no mistake- the recent policy change is no substitute for legislating true immigration reform. It does, however, keep young, productive undocumented immigrants in the country until a true immigration reform policy can be reached. This buys what undocumented immigrants already in or approaching removal proceedings what they never had before: time. This is a precious commodity when one is facing deportation.
With the Dream Act, immigration reform took the position of offering a legal path to full American citizenship to those who have been in the country illegally since childhood. Supporters of the bill realized that immigration reform should not involve deporting people in those circumstances, as is reflected in the recently announced policy, which allows DREAMers who arrived in the country before age 16,have lived here more than 5 years, and are under the age of 30 to remain without fear of deportation. This immigration reform policy change does not extend to immigrants who “pose a threat to national security or public safety,” nor does it extend to those who have been convicted of felonies, “significant” misdemeanor crimes, or multiple misdemeanor crimes.
There are, of course, many more painstaking details that are a part of this policy change, but the more important part is what this announcement from the Obama Administration means for immigrants and immigration reform. Firstly, it gives immigrants who are here simply because their parents took a chance to give them better futures, often sacrificing or risking their lives in the endeavor, the opportunity to make those dreams of bright futures into realities. It also recognizes that the immigration system is largely broken, and that those who are in the country illegally not deliberately, but by default, should not be punished or allowed to fall through the cracks while political battles are fought and compromises are made in order to create a version of immigration reform that works.
To legal, documented Americans, and to many politicians, immigration reform, like other contentious social wedge issues, may be nothing more than tools to advance election year agendas, but to undocumented people who are here and wonder each day if they will be allowed to stay, it is their very lives. Announcements like this one from the Obama Administration give hope to people who were brought here at a young age with hopes and dreams just like every natural born American citizen has. As President Obama said, “They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
Immigration reform is necessary for a myriad of reasons including national security, border security, tax regulation, social programs regulation, and much more. However, our broken immigration system is not the faults of the immigrants who were brought here as small children. America is just as much their home as it is ours. While we definitely need an immigration reform solution that is practical, financially sound, and in line with the laws of this nation, we also must remember that there are people here who have contributed to this society in great ways, who simply, through no fault of their own, happen to be here illegally. Immigration reform should definitely include provisions for them, and, for this reason, I fully support the recent policy change regarding immigration reform at the federal level.
By Shannon Barber; “Changing the world, one mind at a time.”