Obama’s historic announcement on Friday has far-reaching implications for upwards of 800,000 undocumented immigrants, but what does it mean for college students specifically?
The policy change, which comes by Executive Order and will bypass Congress, does not establish a path toward citizenship and in that way falls short of completely fulfilling the DREAM Act, a decade-old bill that if passed would enable resident status for young illegal immigrants who are college students and military service members.
That being said, according to Prerna Lal, co-founder of DreamActivist.org and a 3L at the George Washington University Law School, Obama’s immigration decision represents a moral victory.
“I think once you can see that there’s a future for you, it can definitely affect you in a psychological manner, in which you’ll be more driven to finish college because you can finally put your degree to work,” she told The Huffington Post.
Lal cautioned that it will take 60 days for this action to go into effect, and that fellow student activists must continue to “hold our feet to the fire and make sure this actually happens.”
While the administration's plan will not affect undocumented students in qualifying for financial aid, Lai says, the prospect of having a job for the summer or employment following graduation is a huge uplift.
“The fact that you can actually now work legally in this country means that a lot of people will be able to fund their education by working part-time,” she said, adding that this detail could potentially incentivize younger undocumented students to pursue a college education.
“I’m generally very happy, especially because it comes on the heels of so much hard work from undocumented youths across the country,” she said.
The National Immigrant Youth Alliance released a statement in response to the announcement, stating that it would continue to occupy Obama campaign offices until it is clear to the organization that this action represents a legitimate policy change.
“We are pleased to see this administration make progress, but we will not accept the announcement at its word. Prosecutorial discretion turned out to be ineffectual, and essentially a broken promise. We will review the announcement and will not back down until we are certain the commitment is firm,” the statement reads.
Under the administration’s proposed plan — first reported by The Associated Press — undocumented immigrants will not face deportation if they came to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are currently under the age of 30, have been in the country for at least five consecutive years, possess no criminal record and graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED, or served in the military. They can also apply for a work permit that is valid for two years and has no limit on how many times it can be renewed.
In late May, Obama voiced his renewed support for the Dream Act, which has undergone several modifications since it was first introduced 10 years ago. His endorsement came while speaking at a commencement ceremony at Florida’s Miami Dade College, which graduates more Hispanic students than any other U.S. college.