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Temporary bandage or a real step towards reform and reprieve for DREAMers?

In a desperately needed positive move, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on August 18 some significant administrative repairs to the country’s broken immigration system. Responding to the tsunami of criticism over their increasingly harsh and unjust immigration policies, including blindly deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants without due process, the DHS announced a few changes to their policy.

Under the new policy, the DHS and ICE will review and suspend the low-priority deportation cases – around 300,000 of them – that primarily involve younger immigrants and those who are not deemed a threat to public security. This new move especially benefits the DREAMers, who have been fighting tirelessly for their right to remain in the country. The main stipulations of the DHS policy shift, as highlighted by Campus Progress, are the following:

The DHS will create a joint-commission with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review 300,000 existing deportation cases to identify immigrants that are not high priority cases for removal;

Those that are not high priority individuals for removal —DREAMers, primary caregivers, veterans or relatives of persons in armed services, among others identified in an agency memo (PDF) — will have their cases closed. These individuals should then become eligible to apply for work permits.

This initiative does not provide individuals with an earned path to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status or U.S. Citizenship. Work authorization is not guaranteed, either.

These measures have been generally praised by immigration reform activists, DREAMers, organizations and officials that have been fighting for major changes in the immigration system. Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, a long time champion for immigration reform – who was also heavily involved in the case with Tony and Janina Wasilewski – reacted positively to the DHS announcement, stating:

This is the Barack Obama I have been waiting for, that Latino and immigrant voters helped put in office to fight for sensible immigration policies.

While the DHS, especially Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, has been guarded about their own policy shift so as not appear to be making a complete turnaround, immigration reform groups have also reacted with some trepidation. Napolitano, during a press conference after the DHS announcement made it clear that “Nobody’s getting a free pass. Nobody’s getting free admission to citizenship or anything like that under this system. Nobody is getting exempted.” Meanwhile, immigration reform groups have commented on the very small percentage of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants that will actually benefit from this policy change.

Furthering this stance, Michelle Fei of the Immigrant Defense Project, wrote an op-ed on behalf of the New York State Working Group Against Deportation (NYSGAD) arguing that immigration reform should include new measures for all undocumented immigrants and not just those deemed innocent or harmless. Pointing to a wider flaw in the current immigration policy of the country, Fei writes:

…we cannot accept that people with criminal convictions should be so easily tossed out of our country. They’ve already paid their price in a criminal justice system that seldomly lives up to its promise of fairness and equality – particularly for those from low-income, of color, and immigrant communities. They don’t deserve a harsh second punishment of permanent exile through a deportation system we all know is patently unjust and broken. And no matter what, they still belong with our families and communities.

Fei’s stance on the extents of the the deportation machinery highlight that much more needs to be done until we have a fair and just immigration system in the country. These moves by the DHS are definitely positive and will bring relief to hundreds of thousands of immigrants – many of them young people with a real chance at a great future – who will get another chance to stay in this country. However, the DHS and President Obama must keep this momentum going and really work towards a positive, lasting and effective overhaul of the immigration system. For more information about this policy, read this fact sheet put together by the National Immigrant Justice Center. Add your voice to the immigration reform movement today. Join Restore Fairness.

Photo courtesy of immigrationimpact.com

Tell your Senators to support the DREAM Act

In a historic bipartisan vote, the U.S House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act on December 8th, bringing the hopes of thousands of young people that have built their lives in America, one step closer to being realized. Soon the Senate will bring the House-approved version of the bill to the floor for a vote, and we need you to make sure that your Senators will vote to make the DREAM Act a reality.

If passed, legislation would provide a clear legal pathway for immigrant youth, who have been raised in the United States and who will pursue higher education or serve the United States Armed Forces, to become U.S. citizens and live the American dream.

We need to flood the Senate with phone calls and ensure that we get the 60 votes needed to pass the DREAM Act.

1.  Dial the switchboard 1-866-587-3023
2.

2. Ask the operator for a Senator from the target list

3. When the receptionist picks up leave a message urging the Senator to vote yes on the DREAM Act.

Follow up your phone call with a letter to your Senators telling them why they need to get behind the DREAM Act. Their vote could make the difference between granting or breaking the dreams of thousands. Take action now.

For the first time in history we were able to pass the DREAM Act in the House. Let’s not stop now.

Photo courtesy of dreamactivist.org

Breaking news: Senate filibuster leaves DREAM Act in limbo

When Sen. Harry Reid announced last week that he would be adding the DREAM Act and a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill that was being put before the Senate, it sent waves of excitement and hope through the immigration world and around the nation, especially with respect to the 800,000 youth that have a lot at stake with the passage of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act). The DREAM Act, which is a very crucial first step towards much needed immigration reform in the United States, would allow current, former and future undocumented high-school graduates a pathway to citizenship through college or the Armed Forces.

Today, as people waited to see how the Senate vote on the Defense Authorization Bill would proceed, the excitement mounted. Although Sen. Reid had put the DREAM Act up as an amendment, it could only come up for vote once the Democrats had the 60 votes needed to begin debate on the $726 billion Defense Authorization Bill. Unfortunately, at 2.15 pm today, the Republicans led a successful filibuster of the Defense Authorization Bill in the Senate, killing the chance of a vote and passage of the DREAM Act this time around. While all Democrats voted to bring the bill to the floor, they were unable to win the support of enough Republicans to move the bill forward. The Senate filibuster on the Defense Authorization Bill has also held up passage of a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy of gays in the military.

Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, expressed his frustration at the Senate vote saying-

Today’s vote should have been a simple one. This wasn’t going to change any laws, but merely allow the DREAM Act a chance to be fully debated. The Republicans couldn’t even allow that. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising considering they’ve held steadfast to their adopted role as obstructionists. Their behavior today was appalling. They failed the youth of America; they failed the country. Many of these venerable senators will say they support the DREAM Act but opposed the procedure…The GOP shut down debate on the DREAM Act because they hope the incredible and unprecedented activism seen all across the U.S. this past week will disappear. It won’t. Activists showed how quickly a movement can coalesce and be a driving a force…The GOP can’t filibuster this energy and enthusiasm. We are a powerful movement, and our movement will be felt come November.

The story is far from over. While it is hugely disappointing that just a few Republican votes kept the DREAM Act from being brought to the floor, today’s vote signaled a momentous step in the progress of the “dream.” Over the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of people around the nation have worked tirelessly to get the “dream” passed. They have signed petitions, held vigils and made countless calls to Senators, urging them to support the DREAM Act. Now more than ever, it is important that we keep the pressure on Senators and those in positions of leadership so that they show their support for the DREAM Act so that the next time that it is brought to the floor of the Senate, we have a very different outcome.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com