For months, undocumented youth have been pressuring Obama, and those around him, to stop the deportations of Dream Act eligible youth. One of the best examples is when over 5 Obama for America offices were successfully “undoccupied”, by youth from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, some weeks ago. Some offices were shut down way before the youth even got there and then on Friday June 15, 2012 Barack Obama made an announcement that there would be a policy change in order to stop the deportations of some youth, known as deferred action.
A few days later, the energy is felt in the New York State Youth Leadership Council’s conference room as we hear Attorney Lauren Burke talk with us about deferred action. We come from all over the world and even though some won’t qualify for this policy change, they support it anyway. There are about 300 people watching through live stream, two of our offices are filled with people, some are sitting on the floor, some are standing in the back and I’m sitting on a sound amplifier because there are no more empty chairs. Hands are flying up and down with questions on how this would affect them, “will my parents be outed if I apply?”, “is the application process free?”, “how can I prove I’ve been here for 5 years?”, “will this help me obtain citizenship?”.
According to Barack Obama, we should no longer be worrying about deportations because we are protected under deferred action. So why is it that many are still skeptical about this whole thing?
Throughout the years I’ve come to memorize Obama’s speeches, specifically the section about immigration, education and how it intersects, creating a baby called the Dream Act. He’ll talk about the future doctors, teachers and engineers who cannot work in their field because they lack the proper documentation. Then, he’ll mention deportation practices and state that only criminals are being sent back when in reality, it’s children, parents and grandparents as well. However, these speeches are used strategically around specific times of his presidency in which he feels the need to remind the audience that he’s still the change we once hoped for and believed in. Why else would he announce a change to an immigration policy now that he’s running for re-election? There is no doubt in my mind that this is a political game.
Too many DreamActivist.org petitions and call to actions have taught me that people are still being deported left and right, no matter where they’re from or where they live in the United States. On August 18, 2011, Obama announced prosecutorial discretion which would stop the deportation of those who meet certain requirements, in my opinion, this new announcement of deferred action proves that prosecutorial discretion has been ineffective. We’ve been down this road before, which is why questioning this new policy is my first immediate reaction. Then I think about all the people that, because of one reason or another, cannot apply for deferred action and it saddens me as well as angers me. It’s obvious that many will still be put in deportation proceedings. Some of these folks being left out are friends, family and youth I’ve worked with, who like the rest of us, have dreams for a better future. It’s as if we’re applying a band-aid to a large wound; it may stop bleeding for a few seconds but after a bit it’ll need real treatment which means we’re back to square one.
Deferred action does not create a path to citizenship, and while some youth may enjoy two years of a quasi-normal life, at the end of the day, they continue to be undocumented. My hope is that this policy change does not hush the voices of youth who have worked to get their voices heard thus far and that we don’t get distracted from the real fights still happening in our very own backyard.
One of the fears of giving undocumented youth access to financial aid is: what will happen to them after college? With this change in policy, qualifying youth will now be able to work legally all over the country and contribute back to it, including New York. Despite the New York Dream Act not becoming a reality in 2012, there’s no reason Governor Cuomo would not support it now that youth have the ability to legally work once this is implemented. The need for relief and real change is evident.