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Will Obama grant the DREAM in fragments?

Cross-posted from Culture/Strike

The news is out–and so are undocumented youth around the country who hope that this time, there may be real change ahead. The Obama administration today announced that he will grant undocumented young people temporary immigration relief via an administrative directive by the Department of Homeland Security. The policy would apparently partially fulfill the goals of the DREAM Act campaign by allowing many undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation if they were “brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30,” according to the Associated Press, and have obtained a high school education or served in the military, and have no criminal record. Though it is not a comprehensive path toward full citizenship, the policy would reportedly help several hundred thousand youth avoid deportation and allow them to “apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.”

It appears that this is the administration’s effort to respond to this week’s nationwide mobilization for undocumented youth, coupled with the heightened media attention surrounding Jose Antonio Vargas’s TIME Magazine cover story (featuring CultureStrike’s own Julio Salgado).

Jose Antonio Vargas and his project Define American hailed the new policy as a validation of the struggles of DREAMers and their allies–and acknowledged that many others are still seeking a just and humane immigration solution:

The journey is far from over for the remaining millions of undocumented Americans like me–at 31, I am past the age limit–but this is a big, bold and necessary step in the road to citizenship.

Julio Salgado tells CultureStrike that the policy is encouraging but only covers a piece of the crisis:

It’s a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand I am extremely happy that the work that we have done is paying off. But I also think about the many DREAMers and parents who are past the age of 30 and have been working on this for the past ten years and will not benefit from it. I think about people like Jose Antonio Vargas who just wrote an amazing piece for the cover of TIME Magazine and will not qualify for this. Nonetheless, those folks will be the reason for us to keep fighting.

Now for a reality check: the struggle isn’t over, the DREAM Act is still all but moribund, administrative action has previously proven ineffective in providing real relief to immigrants facing deportation, and uncertainty will continue to dampen the aspirations of millions of immigrants seeking dignity and justice. The Obama administration is still set to deport around 400,000 people this year, and as anti-immigrant hostility boils over in state houses, Washington seems to have little appetite for addressing the immigration question in a comprehensive way during this election season. Nonetheless, the election season has also raised the stakes for the White House on immigration issues as it pivots for Latino voters.

Additionally, the pragmatic ramifications of temporary immigration relief for undocumented youth are hard to ignore. Think Progress notes that the 2010 DREAM Act (legislation that was consistently blocked in Congress–and would have been a broader measure than today’s administrative policy change) was estimated to “increase federal revenues by $1.7 billion.” It would have also generated massive income by allowing undocumented students to remain in the U.S. and work, particularly in high-skilled fields like engineering.

But let’s pull back a bit from the policy debate and recognize that this is about the human rights of individuals and communities who want nothing more than the respect and recognition they deserve as students, neighbors, family members and workers. To that end, Obama’s action can be read as a sign that when it’s deployed with creativity and uncompromising determination, people power can actually shake up the political status quo.

Overall, this is a modest but meaningful triumph in the face of very tough odds, and it’s a testament to the indefatigable activism of groups like the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, Dreamers Adrift, and other grassroots advocates who have helped shift the political ground through creative messaging and direct actions.

So for millions of DREAMers and allies, today’s announcement offers a bit of a respite from a very long nightmare in the government’s immigration gauntlet. But tomorrow morning, it’s back to work.

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Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen