As the countless news reports have announced over the last few days, President Obama has changed the focus of our country's immigration priorities. Through a policy directive memorandum last friday by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, certain young people who were brought to this country as young children and meet certain criteria may avoid deportation or have their deportation proceedings suspended. Said eligible individuals will be eligible to receive deferred action for two years and will be eligible to apply for work authorization. While certain issues concerning this new policy will hopefully be resolved in the following weeks, some light was shed yesterday as immigration community leaders met with White House officials to address this new policy.
One matter nonetheless seems to be clear, as Time magazine's lead story highlights, America's narrative concerning immigration is changing. Evidently, Americans realize the young people affected by this new policy (those that arrived here before the age of 16, have been here for five years, are in school or served in the military, and do not pose a national security threat) are innocents.
Consider the dramatic political shift in less than a week: (1) President Obama, who repeatedly suggested he could not help these youngsters absent legislation, after protests around the country from thousands, and a legal opinion signed by dozens of leading immigration scholars/experts (I had the great honor to be a signatory), followed the opinion and refocussed his immigration priorities. (2) the apparent republican presidential nominee, Gov. Mitt Romney, who previously proclaimed his solution for immigration was self-deportation -- a policy of making life so unbearable for immigrants that they would deport themselves, has now flipped or flopped, so to speak. As HuffPost's Sam Stein recently reported, Romney now has a different tone: In response to questioning on Face the Nation, Romney stated "with regards to these children who came here brought in by their parents who came in here illegally, how we deal with them is something. I think that deserves a long term solution and I don't think we go jumping from one solution to the other." Evidently now even Mitt Romney supports DREAMers?
While some xenophobes may try to continue to propagate hate, the facts are that facts and morality are carrying the day. As Secretary Napolitano stated yesterday (an event I had the honor to attend) this new policy directive focusses immigration priorities on criminals not on the innocent -- in order to be a criminal one needs an act as well as intent. As a law professor, I too have made the above argument in the past, and was more than relieved the administration is assessing DREAMers in the same fashion.
Before ending, I want to mention not only my appreciation for the leadership of our president on this matter and the reported 64 percent of voters likely to support his decision, but I also want to thank others as well. Kudos should be given to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who has received his fair share of criticism, some critiques in my own previous essays, for his leadership in asking his party to change its rhetoric on immigration, and for his promise to propose a republican version of the DREAM Act. Last but not least, let me introduce the largely unsung iconic and selfless heroes in this debate: Carlos A. Roa Jr., Gaby Pacheco, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, and his partner Juan Sousa-Rodriguez. These amazing young souls started the change in our country for immigrant youth -- they raised national attention issue when a few years ago they walked from Miami, Florida to Washington, D.C. Their actions were followed by thousands of other courageous souls that took to the streets, state capital, and scores of other locales in order to change our hearts and minds.
Yet, we must be wary of potential nightmares associated with this issue, as ICE Director John Morton and the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division for the Department of Justice warned yesterday, the implementation of of this process begins on August 15, and no one should respond to the unethical notaries or attorneys that are already soliciting clients and claiming they can prepare applications on this matter. There will likely be no formal applications, and furthermore, my home institution is in the process of partnering with various other immigrant rights advocacy groups such as Americans for Immigrant Justice and Catholic Charities to provide free services to eligible individuals.
While much has been achieved in the last few days, let us not forget that absent legislation to address this issue, the recent announcement is only a step in the fulfillment of a DREAM.