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Keeping the DREAM Alive

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

With the DREAM Act being the latest of stalled and stagnating efforts to reform our broken immigration system, President Obama has issued an executive order that has brought comfort to many and consternation to others.

With this bold proclamation, the President has effectively halted the deportation of an estimated 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and currently live in the United States. Those who are eligible will be able to apply for relief in the form of “deferred action” (i.e., from deportation) and a two-year renewable work authorization. To qualify, the applicants must demonstrate that they: 1) arrived in the United States before turning 16 and are 30 years old or younger; 2) have continuously resided in the U.S. for five years prior to June 15, 2012; 3) are presently in school, have completed high school, earned a GED, or been an honorably discharged veteran of the Armed Forces or Coast Guard; and 4) have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Applicants should be aware that only licensed attorneys and representatives of specially approved non-profit organizations may represent them in requesting deferred action. Immigration consultants or “notarios” are not allowed to represent clients before the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and, by doing so, commit a crime. Also, USCIS is still working out the exact details of the application process and has until mid-August to advise the stakeholders on how to apply. Submitting an application before these processes are in place would result in a denial, so applicants should exercise caution and seek qualified legal advice from an authorized immigration law practitioner.

The President’s announcement is not without controversy, with critics challenging its constitutionality and claiming that it provides “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants who will then “take jobs away” from U.S. citizens. With respect to whether President Obama has overstepped his bounds, critics should know that he is simply enforcing well-established immigration law principles of prosecutorial discretion and deferred action. On the issue of “amnesty,” the order clearly does not guarantee applicants automatic approval let alone a path to permanent residence or citizenship. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer the right to permanent lawful status for these individuals. And finally, on the issue of whether it will take jobs away from current U.S. citizens, it should be noted that historically, immigrants drive innovation and job growth. It is unquestionable that the immigrants granted relief will generate more jobs than they take.

Justino Mora, a 22-year-old undocumented computer science student at UCLA, said it best in a recent Reuters story when he noted, “It hasn’t really sunk in entirely, but I feel a sense of joy and happiness because I know this is really going to change my life… I will have the opportunity to ... create my own business so that I can help... my family financially and create the jobs that the U.S. needs” ( For this promising student, the executive order will help his dreams come true, aspirations that the DREAM Act was supposed to have enabled for many young immigrants like him. In the meantime, this measure gives Congress the space to forge broader, comprehensive immigration reform. Just as immigration is an American issue, immigration reform is a bipartisan issue. And once Congress summons the will to move forward together, the sky will be the limit of dreamers like Justino.

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