Dream a (little) dream

These students were detained in Tucson, Arizona, after a May 2010 sit-in at US Senator John McCain’s office, where they urged him to support the DREAM Act. (Source)

Today’s announcement that the Obama administration will consider not deporting young people who came to the US as children and meet certain criteria is heartening, but we should hold the bubbly.

The DREAMers (named after the proposed Dream Act) are arguably the most sympathetic immigrant group. They were brought to the US by their parents when they were young children, grew up in US schools, studied hard and stayed out of trouble. If we can’t all agree that these kids should not be punished for a choice their parents made for them, there is little hope that we can agree on anything else relating to immigration.

While it’s good to see that President Obama has opened the door to providing relief for this group of people, this move is not a full realization of the DREAMer's dream. That’s because the policy change only allows dreamers to be considered for relief from deportation. It does not guarantee such relief, and without a guarantee, there is nothing to ensure that anything will change for the DREAM generation.

That’s what happened the last time the administration made a similar promise.    

Two years ago, faced with mounting criticism over its million-plus deportations, the Obama administration countered with a new policy directive. A “prosecutorial discretion” memo gave immigration agents the power to stop deportations for several classes of people, such as those who have been in the country for a long time and have not committed any crime. The promise was that the administration would review 300,000 cases and close those that met certain criteria. But to date, the administration has stopped deportations on fewer than 2% of the cases reviewed under this policy. 

Immigration attorneys complain that they file for discretionary relief in cases that fit all of the criteria, and are still denied. 

This is not surprising, given that discretion is left up to individual immigration agents who have no incentive to stop deportations, and who, if anything, are encouraged to deport ever-increasing numbers of people. In fact, the union that represents ICE agents is on record against prosecutorial discretion, calling it a “backdoor amnesty.” 

As long as the policy relies on the discretion of immigration agents to make this decision, it surely won’t be enough. Today’s policy decision is a good first step.

Let’s hope that it isn’t simply a political ploy that uses hard-working youth as pawns. 

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