President Obama’s move to help more than an estimated one million students pursue their dreams without the fear of being torn away from their home has been praised as bold by some. Unfortunately, for those who live the dream – or present nightmare depending on whose definition one uses – this move is tepid at best. The announcement falls short because it only grants deferred action to these individuals.
Deferred action is only a state of limbo. It allows for a grant of work authorization, but fails to provide legal status or any sense of security. The grant of deferred action is only valid for two years.
Granting deferred action to Dreamers is a step in the right direction, but it is only a temporary fix to our nation's immigration problems. An estimated one million young people could benefit from this announcement, and I have personally met and worked with many of those who yearn for the dream to participate in the daylight of our society. They yearn for the symbols (e.g. work permits, driver’s licenses, social security numbers, etc.) that assure them that this is their home and allow them to fully participate in our society. These documents can be taken away in the blink of an eye if President Obama is not reelected.
We currently have other forms of temporary status programs that are problematic. What this plan lacks, similar to other programs that allow people to avoid deportation and continue to live in the U.S., is a pathway towards citizenship or legal permanent residency.
This move is far from what some like to call an “amnesty or immunity” for undocumented young people. These young people won't be able to engage in long-term planning. One of my clients, an undocumented youth who was brought into this country at the age of three years old and just graduated from UC Berkeley, is currently studying for the LSAT, the law school admissions exam. She is excited by this announcement, but she can't help thinking that her dream could become a nightmare if congress – or a new president – moves to deport those who participate.
Who is to say that this plan will not turn into a deportation list? Unlike the legalization program of the 1980s, this plan lacks confidentiality provisions for people who apply for benefits. One only has to look back to the Mexican Repatriation acts that took place in the 1930’s for proof of Congress’s willingness to commit mass cattle car deportation of Latinos.
While President Obama’s election year tactic raises concerns, it is a great step in the right direction. Hopefully, the same way that President Obama’s view on marriage equality has humanized the plight of same-sex couples, this announcement will highlight the struggles and achievements of undocumented youth.
At the end of the day, the hope for a permanent solution for Dreamers has continued to be deferred, for this current move is far from a panacea. Dreamers must continue to live in the limbo of wondering whether they, too, will live the American dream.
Rosa Gomez is the Dream Act attorney for Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto.