Many believe the Obama administration's recent change in immigration policy that prevents about one million undocumented young people who came to the country as children from being deported, is mistakenly being regarded as comprehensive immigration reform.
"It's only temporary, this is not a law. The passing of the Dream Act is something that can certainly be classified as comprehensive immigration reform," Imad Hamad, regional director of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee said. He says the move is still a step forward in the right direction towards immigration reform.
Civil Rights Attorney Nabih Ayad says he's had some of his cases involving undocumented young people in removal administratively closed due to the policy. "While this is hardly comprehensive immigration reform, it does grant young aliens respite from the harsh consequences of falling out of status due to no fault of their own," Ayad said.
The policy will not be officially effective until 60 days, which is when USCIS and ICE are expected to start the application process on a case by case basis. Obama used his executive power to impose the policy, bypassing a vote from Congress.
Only those who meet the following criteria are eligible to receive the deferred action: Came to the United States under the age of sixteen; have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding the date of this memorandum; and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum; are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security, or public safety; and are not above the age of thirty.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it cannot provide any assurance that all requests will be granted, and the use of prosecutorial discretion confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship. DHS also states only Congress acting through its legislative authority can confer such rights.
For individuals who are in removal proceedings and have already been identified as meeting the eligibility criteria, and offered an exercise of discretion as part of ICE’s ongoing case by case review, ICE will immediately begin to offer them deferred action for the two year period.
Those seeking to find out whether they're eligable for the deferment are encouraged to contact organiztions such as the ADC, ACLU, ACCESS and AIR which don't pose a threat to the living status of their families in the country, and avoid first obtaining information from federal agencies.
Generally Republicans have spoken out against policies that work to the advantage of illegal immigrants. Hamad participated in a community leader briefing on immigration reform hosted by the White House in Washington, D.C. where remarks were given by U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
In response to the new policy, President Obama stands accused of exceeding his authority by Republicans. Hamad says at the briefing, Napolitano explained that the president did not abuse his jurisdiction.
Nancy Cassis, conservative Republican candidate for Congress in Michigan's 11th district, said she's appalled by the president's decision to grant amnesty to the children of illegal immigrants.
"His bypassing of Congress is an outrage and usurps the powers given him in the Constitution. And he sends a message that breaking the law is acceptable. Well it is not, and I am going to fight in Congress to reverse this outrageous plan," Cassis said.
"America is a country built by legal immigrants. I will work to make sure that our system granting citizenship is simple, thorough, and does not reward those whose first action in America was to break our laws and enter illegally, but instead rewards those who have followed our laws and seek to come here legally, she added."
Immigration is a complex and touchy issue that's often ignored. Hamad says the new policy has triggered a national dialogue on the subject.
He said undocumented young people are limited to what they can do on a daily basis. They're often prevented from driving because their parents fear they could be arrested and deported. "I feel the pain and agony of these people," he said. "They ask their parents, 'why are we in this situation, and why isn't there a solution?' They are helpless and hopeless.'"
Reportly undocumented young people in the Hispanic community have turned to drugs and started participating in negative behavior as a result of the struggles that come with being undocumented.
There is much speculation that Obama took the action in an effort to gain support among Hispanic voters, and other minorities in the wake of the presidential election.
The policy change has drawn applause from immigrant advocate groups. Nadia Tonova, director for the National Network of Arab American Communities' and Hassan Jaber, executive director of ACCESS, issued the following statement: "We believe this choice aligns with the fundamental values of our nation to treat people with humanity and dignity, and we encourage prompt and efficient implementation of this decision so that it provides the most relief possible." Jaber and Tonova also say the executive action helps young people who came here as children avoid being sent to countries that many of them don't know, or can't remember.
In a news release Napolitano said, "Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner. But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they might not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."
Obama says the action makes the nation's immigration policy more fair. "These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper," Obama said. The president added that many of the people the new policy will affect were brought to the country by their parents, sometimes as infants and often have no idea that they're undocumented until they apply for a job, driver's license or a college scholarship. "Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you've done everything right your entire life, studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class, only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with even a language that you may not even speak," Obama said.
Juan Sancen, an undocumented student who just graduated at the top of his class from Cesar Chavez High School in Detroit, said the change offers students such as him incredible hope. He says he's American in every "single way except for a piece of paper." Sancen says he's now one step closer to pursuing his dream of becoming a physicist. "Like my role model Albert Einstein, I'm an immigrant with a lot to contribute to my country."
For more information on the new policy visit: httpwww.uscis.gov or the DHS website at www.dhs.gov.