President Obama recently ordered an end to deportation of young people who have been brought to this country as children, have grown up here and, as he put it, have “become part of the American family.”
The DREAM Act, which would have accomplished this and much more by providing the affected youth with a path to citizenship, actually passed in the House early in Obama’s first term. But when it moved on to the Senate (where it also had enough votes to pass), Republicans filibustered it, preventing it from coming up for a vote and stalling any action whatsoever until the President acted last week.
On June 25 there was another historic development. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down three parts of Arizona’s prejudicial immigration law, but, in a split decision, allowed a fourth part to remain:
Though the court did not definitively eliminate the part of that law that allows police to check the immigration status of those who are detained for other reasons, it killed the most egregious parts of the Arizona law – the parts that allowed police to demand immigration papers from anyone, for whatever reason and the part that made it a crime for the undocumented to even seek work.
The court also signaled that the section of the law it left standing is hanging by only the barest of threads. ‘This opinion,” wrote the court, “does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.” In other words, reported the Washington Post, a sharp watch will be kept on what is nicknamed the “papers, please” provision.
Rebekah Friend, president of the Arizona AFL-CIO, said that letting that provision remain is a “grave error, because the rights of Arizona’s working families will be violated and irreparably harmed in the meantime. We have seen first-hand the consequences of such divisive policies; everyone suffers. Thousands of jobs have been lost, communities have been disrupted, and families have been irreparably divided.”
Tania Unzueta, lead organizer with the Immigrant Youth Justice League, said of both these developments, “We feel that it’s good for undocumented youth! But people still need to know that there are many deportations going on. There are copycat laws [similar to the Arizona law] all over the country.” In other words, Unzueta’s point was, this was certainly an achievement, but DREAMers aren’t out of the woods yet.
“DREAMer” is a nickname for an undocumented citizen who advocates the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.
“This [Obama’s order allowing hundreds of thousands a way of legally remaining in the U.S.] was good for many of us,” Unzueta said, “but not everyone. It’s something the community has to keep on top of. We’re preparing to support people; we’re setting up workshops that will teach people what the law actually is, and to whom it applies.
“The IYJL members feel that it’s very good that many deportations are going to stop, but I think they’re also a bit distrustful. We’re at a very interesting point right now. Our community needs to organize so that we can give a positive message to Obama [about how we feel].”
Going forward, she concluded, “People have to be mobilized. The Secure Communities program is still in effect. As such, many people feel like they’re in a hostile environment. They can’t trust the police, because that program is legitimizing some of the [prejudicial] actions of the police departments.
“We have to make sure the government is paying attention [to these facts]. And we have to make sure that people who fall outside of the DREAM Act’s qualifications get the help they need. No one should get left behind.”
Secure Communities is a deportation program managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and is used as a corrupt and problematic tool. Its policies do not discern a clear difference between criminals and innocent undocumented citizens.
“Secure Communities is still being enforced,” 24 year-old Jorge Mena told the People’s World. Mena is a University of Illinois graduate who is undocumented. While he said he was glad that DREAMers are finding community support, he noted, “We need to continue bringing attention to how [Secure Communities] is putting people into deportation proceedings and tearing families apart.”
“The [program’s] goal was to supposedly protect communities from criminal aliens,” said 22 year-old Fanny Lopez-Martinez. “In reality, it’s used to deport innocent immigrants. It causes a lot of fear; everyone is afraid to talk to police.”
Mena and Lopez-Martinez were two of the “Chicago Six” – undocumented youths who stood on trial in the Windy City after being arrested for civil disobedience and charged with reckless conduct. They were ultimately found not guilty. That marked the first time in U.S. history that charges against undocumented immigrants accused of civil disobedience were dismissed in a court of law.
Despite the rough road that lies ahead, many DREAMers have a positive feeling about the situation as it stands now.
Jorge Resendez, who took part in a sit-in at the federal building in downtown Los Angeles, Calif. on June 20 with his fellow undocumented students, remarked, “Tears of joy definitely wanted to come out” when President Obama announced the temporary end to undocumented student deportations. “It was so surreal. I was so happy.”
The 24 year-old University of California, Los Angeles student came to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of four.
“This doesn’t give us [full] legalization,” Resendez admitted, “but now we’re going to breathe a little easier.”
Photo: Pepe Lozano/PW