As The Huffington Post reports, law graduates Jose Godinez-Samperio in Florida, Cesar Vargas in New York, and Sergio Garcia in California are fighting for the right to be admitted to the state bars after passing their bar exams. The problem is that they do not have immigration status; they are members of a group of undocumented persons who entered the United States as children. On June 15, 2012 President Obama announced a new deferred action program that may provide a temporary answer to the work authorization issues of undocumented persons like Samperio, Vargas, and Garcia. However, President Obama’s program does not grant the permanent immigration status that only Congress can legislate.
Nonetheless, even if the deferred action program is only a temporary solution, I am thankful to President Obama for trying to help the DREAMers – a group of undocumented young men and women who have been bravely lobbying for presidential and congressional action in the form of a DREAM Act, even while risking deportation. I frankly do not care if President Obama’s motive was political; the point is that this is hopefully one small step in the direction of humane immigration reform. Some Republican leaders are calling this administrative policy an amnesty. If amnesty is understood to be a path to permanent legalization and citizenship, deferred action is not amnesty.
Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano outlined the deferred action guidelines in a memorandum that she issued on June 15, 2012 (Napolitano Memorandum), and there are strict application and eligibility requirements, including entrance to the United States before the age of sixteen; continuous residence for five years prior to the issuance of the Napolitano Memorandum; current school attendance, graduation from high school, attainment of a general education development certificate (GED), or honorable discharge from service in the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces; no felony, “significant misdemeanor,” or multiple misdemeanor convictions; not pose a threat to national security or public safety; and an age requirement of thirty years old or younger. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have sixty days from the issuance of the Napolitano Memorandum to begin implementing the application process.
While this change in policy is a temporary fix, it is better than nothing for human beings who entered innocently as children and have grown up as Americans in the United States. I speak from personal experience on this topic; I arrived in the United States with my family as a child, in great part due to failed U.S. foreign policy, and lived for nearly a decade in constant fear of deportation. During the Reagan years, I was thankful for being granted a work permit that allowed me to work my way through high school and college, even though I did not qualify for federal financial aid or scholarships and grants reserved for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. That work permit enabled me to begin paying taxes as a teenager even if I was ineligible to receive the benefits that taxpayers receive.
I will be forever grateful to President Reagan, the Republican Senate, and the Democratic House of Representatives who eventually passed and signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), the so-called amnesty, which provided an incremental path toward earned legalization and citizenship after meeting strict application and eligibility requirements. The beauty of my American dream is that, on May 28, 2012, I had the privilege, now as a law professor, of joining fellow law professors in signing a letter that was submitted to President Obama informing him, from a legal perspective, about the administrative actions, including deferred action, that former U.S. presidents have used in situations like those faced by the DREAMers, and the authority for such executive decisions. I was thrilled when President Obama finally took action.
In closing, I pray that my fellow Americans will look beyond the politics of President Obama’s decision and examine it for what it does for some of our neighbors, classmates, friends, and relatives. They get to work and pay taxes. They get to attend universities even if they are still ineligible to receive federal financial aid. They get to rest without the constant fear of deportation. And they get to hope that the American polity will support them in the future and convince Congress and the President to grant them permanent admission as lawful permanent residents on their way to citizenship. I wish that I could thank President Obama in person during his upcoming visit to Orlando, Florida on June 22, 2012, but this blog entry is my way of thanking him and sharing publicly, in support of the DREAMers, my own immigration limbo experience and the positive ending that I eventually achieved, which is my wish for fellow DREAMers.