I am participating in a press conference today with Presente.org and several Puerto Rican leaders that coincides with the president's trip to Puerto Rico on Tuesday. The press conference will include Esmeralda, who has lived in Puerto Rico since she was nine years old and who graduated with honors from high school, but who is also an undocumented immigrant who could be deported. We are sending a clear message to President Obama that it is time to stop deporting these young people who were raised in the U.S. and are American in every way except for the paperwork. The people who would have been eligible for eventual legal status and citizenship through the DREAM Act had it been signed into law last year -- including superstars like Esmeralda -- are still being removed from the U.S., which is not in the national interest nor the explicitly stated goals of the president. The president knows he has the power to stop the deportation of DREAMers; the question is whether he has the courage to do so. From a political standpoint, halting the deportation of DREAMers would do much more to show the Latino community the president is still on our side than just posing for pictures in San Juan.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has been clear that deporting young people who have lived in the U.S. for years and were brought here through no fault of their own as children should not be the targets of deportation. Led by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), this spring 22 U.S. Senators asked the president to use the discretionary powers he has under current law to set DREAM-eligible young people aside and protect them from deportation.
Even the president himself has made the rhetorical case to suspend deportations for this specific group of people. In his most recent State of the Union Address in January, he said:
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.
It makes no sense for young immigrants raised in the U.S. to live under the threat of deportation and there is one person who can do something about it: President Barack Obama.
When the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with the president last month, we reiterated our call for a halt to the deportations of these young people. The president appears to agree. He concedes that he has this power under existing law and legal scholars concur. The question is whether President Obama has the conviction and desire to fight for these young immigrants by stopping their deportations.
We know in some cases, deportations have been deferred, but usually after a public campaign, a petition drive, a viral social media clamor or significant media coverage, much of which is being driven by students and young people -- immigrants and their committed U.S.-born allies.
But it should not have to come to that. Several times a month, I hear from DREAMers who were picked up or received notices of deportation. Some have even been deported. Should I line up each week with my congressional colleagues to have each individual case reviewed by the president? His staff? Will Secretary Napolitano hold office hours?
Except for some House Republicans and a small but vocal minority of anti-immigration activists, everyone thinks deporting such long-term residents is silly, self-defeating, and un-American. We should have a clear process to protect young people who were raised in this country. When the majority of the House and Senate vote to go further and actually legalize the status of these all-but-Americans, the political space is open for you, Mr. President, to do what is right and just.
We should allow DREAMers to declare that they are not criminals, that they want to be here, want to fully participate in their society and get on the books. We should make college, work and military service available to them. At the very least, they should know that there is a policy -- a set of guidelines and procedures -- that will be followed if they are detained or get word from authorities that they must leave. They need to know that deportation is dead in the water until at least the Congress acts or a different president makes a different decision regarding who are priorities for deportation and who are not.
In my experience, young people fighting for the passage of the DREAM Act and to prevent the deportation of those who are eligible are among the most committed and fearless advocates for change in this country. They are winning legislation at the state level to grant in-state tuition to all state residents and that legislation is holding up in court. You want them fighting on your side, Mr. President. Meet with DREAM Act students as I have. Listen to what they are facing, Mr. President. If House Republicans decide -- in their infinite wisdom and boundless sense of decency -- that they want to fight you and insist that America deport some of its brightest future leaders, you would have no better allies in that fight than the young people whose futures are directly at stake, not to mention the communities from coast to coast who love them and support them.
I know that DREAMers, like most immigrants, want you fighting for them and to know your commitment to their legal status in this country goes beyond speeches and a call for legislation. Your action -- or lack thereof -- to prevent their deportation will speak volumes, not just to them but to millions of your supporters who want them to stay.