The Associated Press is reporting at this hour leaked reports from Obama Administration officials that describe a memo from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that would offer protection from deportation and eligibility for a work permit to certain individuals commonly referred to as “DREAMers.”
The term comes from the perennial legislative proposal the DREAM Act, which itself stands for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors act. DREAMers are an increasingly outspoken group of young people brought to the United States as children — sometimes as babies — and who have stronger social ties to the United States than they do to their home countries (often in Central America).
In recent years DREAMers have become impatient with being tossed around as a political football, with the DREAM Act legislation introduced in Congress each session since 2001 yet never passing both houses of Congress. Through rallies, marches, sit-ins, and cross-country walks, the growing community of DREAMers and their allies has begun agitating more aggressively for a solution to their plight. DREAMers complain that their entry to the United States (whether without inspection, on a long-expired visitor visa, or by other means) was not their choice, that they know this country better than their actual “home” country, and that despite having worked hard in school and done everything asked of them they cannot put their talents to work for themselves or for society because they lack lawful immigration status.
Now, to the Obama Administration’s proposal: details are scarce. The criteria that have been outlined parallel those in the DREAM Act legislation that narrowly fell short of passage in the U.S. Senate in December 2010: individuals must have been brought to the U.S. before age 16, they must now be under age 30, they must have been in the country for five continuous years, they must have a clean criminal history, and they must have graduated from high school, earned a G.E.D., or served in the military.
Under the proposal, these youth would be able to apply for a deportation waiver and a renewable two-year work permit. The work permit would allow them to get a Social Security card and authorization to work, but it would not seem to give them access to some public benefits or federal financial aid for college. Nonetheless, this would be an improvement for the thousands of DREAMers who have excelled in high school, gone on to college, and now have university degrees that they cannot use because they lack employment authorizations.
Also unclear is whether or not this will be a proactive benefit — one for which DREAMers can apply no matter their circumstances — or whether it will be a defense form of relief. At first blush the mechanism seems to be the latter: DREAMers in removal proceedings will have an unexpected reprieve, but the benefit will not be available to all comers. It also remains to be seen how a “clean criminal record” will be defined and how much the discretion of jurisdiction-level officials will come into play. Recent promises that 300,000 pending deportation cases would be reviewed and closed according to a generous set of criteria have fallen short, as the review has only resulted in the closure of about ten percent of all pending deportations.
We will provide updates as more specific information becomes available. Observers note that this is an “election year announcement” targeted at a Latino voting bloc that has soured on the Obama administration’s aggressive deportation policies and failure to squeeze blood from a stone in achieving compromise with Congressional opponents of immigration reform. The president speaks to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials next week.