Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Dream Act -- Deferred -- But Not Denied

Langston Hughes famously wrote about dreams deferred in a poem originally titled "Harlem," asking "if these dreams dry up like a raisin in the sun ... or do they explode?"

That question has also been explored in the U.S. among immigrant communities over the last decade as the American-reared children of undocumented individuals have grown to maturity and face a truly uncertain future. These young people, many of whom came here in their toddler days, have seen their dreams thwarted and their futures threatened by deportation through no fault of their own. There was no path to citizenship for them as legislative proposals about amnesty, fines and "buy-ins" have been defeated repeatedly. Through courageous marches in their communities and in Washington, DC, these young people, many of whom have known no other country, press their quest for citizenship and the right to opportunity, education and employment.

Lack of a social security number denies these students access to student loan programs and in-state tuition, even though they may have spent their entire educational preparation in state or county schools. Lack of a valid social security number increasingly means lack of employment opportunities in the above-ground employment market. For some, the path to citizenship lay only through military enlistment with the promise of citizenship after service. Sadly more than one young man received retroactive citizenship as Taps was played at his gravesite. That should not be the only option open to the children of immigrants. No mother ever gives birth to a child only to deny his or her dreams.

Friday, President Obama stepped in with an executive order permitting good students to apply for valid work permits, so they can use their hard-fought gains in education to better both their lives and those of their families and become productive members of this country and their communities.

Although not the long-sought National Dream Act -- to allow funding for college education by access to loans -- (not granting a free college education to so-called illegals as claimed by opponents!), it takes away the threat of deportation which has long hung over the heads of this group of young people.

Recently the Washington Post profiled an upstanding teenager about to graduate from high school in Richmond, Virginia, but unwilling to celebrate as she was facing deportation the following week. Presaging this announcement, her deportation was stayed and she may apply for this new legal status.

From the Department of Homeland Security:

Under this directive, individuals who demonstrate that they meet the following criteria will be eligible for an exercise of discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case-by-case basis:
  • Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
  • Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
  • Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honoably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
  • Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
  • Are not above the age of thirty.

Maryland voters now have an opportunity to enhance this change in policy by passing the Maryland Dream Act at referendum this November. The Dream Act was passed into law by the Maryland General Assembly in 2011. However opponents, many of whom used rumor and misdirection in their referendum signature campaign, will be mounting a strong and negative effort to defeat this law at the polls. Although many of the signatures were thought to be spurious, the referendum was allowed to go forward in a court hearing this week.

Many expect outside forces such as the Tea Party to come into the state and push anti-immigrant messages. I am hopeful that saner and more reasonable blue state Marylanders will go to the polls and keep the law, as written, in place. Sadly, it will take all of us working with each other to make sure people do not fall prey to the many innuendoes which will certainly be employed in the efforts to defeat this legislation. Maryland has a very low threshold to petition a law to referendum, which is one of the reasons we are facing two ballot measures this year. The other one addresses the civil marriage equality act which passed earlier this year.

Was politics in play here? Of course, the President has been criticized by many in the Latino and other immigrant communities for not getting the Dream Act passed, and was being pressed to do something. However, as he said "It was the right thing to do."

The response from Republicans was not enthusiastic.

As noted in the article above, candidate Romney would not answer a question asking if he would reverse this action if he were elected. Senator Lindsay Graham called the actions "possibly illegal" and Congressman Steve King threatened to sue the President. Of course Rush Limbaugh voiced the expected Republican anti-immigrant line and his words were echoed by many of his ilk. Senator Marco Rubio, thought by some to be a possible VP candidate for Romney, departed from the party line and pushed for his more restrictive Dream Act light which has not garnered much support. Rubio, who is of Cuban background, has not been a supporter of amnesty or more inclusive immigrant reform.

I am hopeful that President Obama's actions will be a first step toward uniting our country and not dividing us into groups for and against undocumented individuals. At base, we are all humans with hopes and dreams for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. Perhaps the fact that I became a grandmother this year has made me more sensitive to generations forever separated by our fractured immigration and deportation policies. For too many years we gave a wink and a nod to the rules of entry as our economy was booming and we needed workers in many areas. But then, as the easy money went away and the economy of Main Street was trammeled by the actions on Wall Street, we suddenly shut the gates and told those we had previously welcomed, to go home. Now we are faced with about 12 million undocumented immigrants who are ignored by many in the mainstream.

Where are they to go? States such as Arizona, Georgia and Alabama think they can harass and frighten their populations into leaving and have partially succeeded. The problem just moves somewhere else. Texas Governor Perry, not the best candidate by any stretch, was castigated by his fellow Republicans for trying to voice a modestly fair approach to immigrant students. The Latino population is currently the fastest growing segment of our society. Our country is moving toward a majority-minority population basis and we must as a society deal with this reality. Montgomery County has already become a majority-minority county.

What would you conclude? Perhaps my years of teaching many immigrant students at Montgomery College, who cherished the American dream, has made people from other lands seem less foreign to me. In actuality, the students are here and can eventually become productive American citizens if we can work through this matter in a humane way.

We need to deport fewer individuals and move toward some type of an amnesty. Each person has their own story and their own destiny. We need to nourish, encourage and give a hand up to those who have been kept in the shadows far too long. Our society can only benefit from their knowledge and hard work. Our country was built by immigrants, both legal and undocumented and we can measure the growth of our democracy by their accomplishments. We can and should move forward together as Americans with a shared goal to strengthen our democracy.

1 comment:

  1. If Canada offered $100,000 / yr for manual labor, would we stay home?

    We will ALWAYS have illegal immigrants until hiring them costs more than hiring citizens and authorized foreign guests.

    Instead we hear claptrap from supposedly xenophobic conservatives about walls and border patrol. Penalties for employers? Not a peep.

    Illegal immigrants can't unionize, sue in court, obtain police protection, or vote. What's not to like by the plutocracy?

    Obama not deporting people? Good. It isn't cost-effective and Democrats should be all about cutting government waste.


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