Uncertain Future Of DREAMers In The US
After spending an evening with his girlfriend in Calexico, Calif., on Feb. 17, Juan Manuel Montes, 23, who has lived in the U.S. since age 9, grabbed a bite and was waiting for a ride when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer approached and started asking questions. Montes had left his wallet in a friend’s car, so he couldn’t produce his ID or proof of his DACA status and was told by agents he couldn’t retrieve them. Within three hours, he was back in Mexico, becoming the first undocumented immigrant with active DACA status deported by the Trump administration’s stepped-up deportation policy.
Mr. Montes is one of the “estimated 2.1 million eligible youth” known as DREAMers; undocumented immigrants, brought to the US when they were kids. Their upbringing in the US has made them an integral part of our society. However, without permanent residency, they are confined to laws leveraging them down to fear of deportation. Their legal status as DREAMers gives them only temporary relief; they receive education and can work, but are not assured of their future in America. That’s where fear comes to play. The US government should assure DREAMers of permanent relief under the law. The Government must realize the importance of protracting the Dream Act up to the degree where DREAMers like Mr. Montes feel safe.
The Dream (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act passed by Congress, grants legal status to undocumented immigrant minors who were brought to the US as kids and attended school here. President Obama signed DACA, an executive order for undocumented minors fearing deportation, and granting work permits. The program expires after two years, subject to renewal. Under conditional residency status (for about 6 years) of the Dream Act, a minority of DREAMers can eventually get citizenship, through military service, maintaining good moral character and academic completion. On the other side, DACA grants undocumented immigrants two-year temporary relief from deportation. DREAMers as a general category refer to both the Dream Act and DACA beneficiaries. Under DACA, DREAMers are in limbo for “temporarily relief” and find it almost impossible to get residency. Why was there a need of DACA if we already have the Dream Act?
Undocumented youth who came to the US are culturally American and attending schools. They are honor students, engineers, doctors, athletes and teachers. The process of getting permanent residency or citizenship takes very long, at the minimum 8 years. The outcome is called conditional residency status, and after that they either have to join the military or attend higher education. The Dream Act is attractive to a very tiny minority of undocumented youth. The USCIS fiscal year report concludes that in just 2016 alone they received a total of 1,541,960 DACA applications, a huge number compared to the Dream Act beneficiaries.
DREAMers are part of the illegal immigration controversy aroused in the US in a politically infused climate. Despite that, Illustration from nationwide survey by Center for American Progress concludes that “59% Got a job with better pay, 89% Got a driver’s license or state ID, 92% Of those in school, have pursued educational opportunities [they] previously could not, 45% wage increase after DACA, 57% Are able to earn more money”. Their contribution has enormous impact over the economy, future workforce and education. But somehow among productive members of the society, they are faced with fear of uncertainty in the future. Most of the DREAMers are young and can fill the future workforce.
Five years of the Dream Act has not made a significant impact. The Dream Act in the first place was not enough to include a significant number of DREAMers. The Dream Act by its name is clear that it was compiled to focus on “Development and Education for Alien Minors” and is not based on an assurance of permanent residency. Possibilities of LPR (legal permanent resident) are few under the Dream Act, mainly serving the military, demonstrating good moral character and receiving a degree from an institution of higher education, including at least a two-year degree in good standing. DREAMers under the Dream Act are required to have six years of “conditional residency status” to be eligible for “Permanent legal residency.” On the other side under DACA, it is impossible to get permanent residency as well as to travel outside the US. The whole objective of the Dream Act is to make it too rigorous for individuals to get permanent residency by applying so many filters. On the other side DACA is the easiest way to be able to work in the US and have a driver’s license. DACA is another form of telling DREAMers “we will deport you later” because DACA is an executive order and has no prediction in the future.
Since President Trump took office in January 2017, his administration has left the DACA program in doubt. Part of President Trump’s campaign is to cancel the DACA program. President Trump’s statement about DACA recipients was very unclear when he spoke in a February 2017 news conference:
Trump’s rhetoric has left DREAMers psychologically impacted, and expressed their feelings to Kazi Fouzia, a community organiser for the Dreamer advocacy group DRUM, revealing that, “they are so concerned that they watch the news every second of every day. They’re not even eating properly because they’re so stressed”. Since the Trump administration has taken office, the controversy over illegal immigrants seems to have become the worst because the political campaign promised to toughen immigration policies against illegal immigrants. Mr. Montes is the first victim to face deportation under the Trump administration, even though he had protected status under DACA.
On January 12, 2017 Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) along with five other senators introduced the Bridge Act. The Act is bipartisan legislation intended to allow people who are eligible for or who have received work authorization and temporary relief from deportation through DACA to continue living in the U.S. with permission from the federal government. Identical legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Mike Coffman and seven other House members. The Bridge Act must go through a long legislative process to be implemented. In comparison with the Dream Act and DACA, the Bridge Act is going to be the most effective legislation as it provides Dreamers more certainty of staying in the US. However, although the Bridge Act is also protection from deportation, which means temporary relief (for 3 years), it has provided no bases of their permanent residency in the US. Even if the Bridge Act should pass, DREAMers will remain in what’s commonly called “Immigration Limbo.”
DREAMers are peacefully spreading their message across the US through strong advocacy and activism. Their fight includes campaigns, movies, and social media awareness. Jose Antonio Vergas, a DREAMer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker, has centered his work on changing American identity. Mr. Vergas is fighting back to change the narrative of DREAMers in the US by producing films, joining campaigns and writings. In 2012, he appeared on Time magazine cover along with fellow undocumented immigrants as part of a follow-up cover story he wrote, “We Are Americans”. One of the prominent struggles of Mr. Vergas is advocacy for DREAMers and recently introduced #FactsMatter campaign to reflect contribution of DREAMers in the US.
Mr. Vergas and millions like him are recognising their presence and voicing for their rights to be legally American, and for legislative reform. The Dream Act and subsequently DACA are not enough because DREAMers such as Mr. Montes were deported under protected status. Specifically, in the current era the label “illegal immigrants” can be harsh on them. The Dream Act was the need of the time in 2011 and also DACA in 2012, but the laws and regulations need replacement or expansion. The assimilation of DREAMers as “incredible kids” in American society through promising laws is the need of the time. The Bridge Act with certainty of permanent residency, or in other case the expansion of the Dream Act, would be the best solution for securing DREAMers’ dreams. America needs to stop shattering the hopes of millions of DREAMers.