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DREAMers Get a Reprieve PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia   
Thursday, 21 June 2012 05:06

Obama stops deportation for many undocumented students

ALEX GARCIA/SFVS

Over 100 undocumented students and their sympathizers held a sit-in in front of the federal building in downtown Los Angeles on Friday, when the President made the announcement.

Jorge Resendez didn't cry, but he was nearly there as emotion grabbed hold of him after listening to President Barack Obama's announcement of a temporary end to deportations of undocumented students.

"Tears of joy definitely wanted to come out," said Resendez, member of the San Fernando Valley Dream Team who came to the United States at the age of four from his native Mexico.

"It was surreal. I was so happy, it was so unexpected, a great emotion," recalled the 24-year-old UCLA student who two years ago had to stop his studies because he could no longer pay for college. Since then, Resendez, who is undocumented, has returned to UCLA and hopes to finish school in a year and a half.

"This doesn't give us legalization, but we're now going to breathe a little easier and concentrate only in our school and graduating so we can contribute to this country," said Resendez.

ALEX GARCIA/SFVS

Dulce Matuz, who graduated from Arizona State University in 2009, hopes to finally put her electronic engineering degree to use.

Announcement

In a surprise announcement, Obama announced on Friday that undocumented immigrants will avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.

Obama said the change would become effective immediately to "lift the shadow of deportation from these young people."

"Let's be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix," Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. "This is the right thing to do."

The administration said the change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have live in fear of deportation.

It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act) legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military. Those covered by the DREAM Act are often referred to as DREAMers.

The plan was hailed by pro-immigrant groups and decried by those who oppose illegal immigration.

"Today's (Friday) bold Obama Administration announcement holds out the promise of significant, even transformative, benefit to the entire nation by ensuring that some of our most capable and committed young people are finally given the opportunity to work and to safely contribute to our economic competitiveness and our national development," said Thomas A. Saenz, General Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

"We commend President Barack Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano for taking steps to provide young people who were brought to the country through no fault of their own with some relief from deportation, and the opportunity to contribute to the economic prosperity and success of this great nation. This policy will strengthen the fabric of our nation by helping to keep families together and allowing immigrant minors and youth to remain in the country and pursue an education," said the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in a statement.

However, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group that opposes illegal immigration, called the President's plan a "brazen usurpation of Congressional authority."

"Over the past ten years, Congress has repeatedly rejected the DREAM Act.

Now, five months before the presidential election, the Obama administration is unilaterally rewriting our immigration laws, defying Congressional authority and threatening our constitutional framework," said Dan Stein, president of FAIR.

"This is a blatant abuse of executive power that ignores the will of Congress and the American people," charged Stein. "The Obama administration is engaging in a shameless display of political pandering to satisfy a narrow slice of its party".

"President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people," Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, GOP chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

And Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a long time hardliner on immigration issues, said he planned to file suit to halt the policy.

Pressure worked

For several days, undocumented students had planned a rally in downtown Los Angeles Friday to put pressure on Obama to support the DREAM Act.

In the end, the protest turned into a celebration while some 150 undocumented students and their supporters sat on the street in front of the federal building and briefly blocked a freeway entrance ramp.

Wendy Muniz, a Glendale Community College Student was part of the action.

"This is something positive for the whole community. Now I'm more calm, but there's still some fear. We don't know what's going to happen if Obama doesn't get elected and the next administration can change this," said Muniz, 20, who came to the United States with her parents when she was 10- years-old.

So far, Muniz said she pays school with seasonal telemarketing jobs and scholarships, but being undocumented forced her to leave Cal State San Bernardino because she could no longer pay tuition. Now she looked forward to getting a job with decent pay to pay for school.

"All we want is what everybody else wants, an opportunity," she said.

Dulce Matuz, who graduated from Arizona State University in 2009 in electronic engineering was also present at the downtown rally in Los Angeles.

"This is a moment of celebration. This is a step in the right direction, but it's only temporary. What we're fighting for is something permanent," said Matuz, 27, who came to the United States at age 15.

"This is a victory for our movement. We're going to be able to use our skills and put them to work," she said, noting that since graduating from college her undocumented status has prevented her from working in her field. "We're not going to be worried about being deported or having immigration problems."

Javiera Infante, another undocumented student who attends Los Angeles Valley College and is a member of the San Fernando Valley Dream Team, also expressed happiness, but caution at the announcement, as the provision is only temporary.

"There's so much more work to be done. Although this is historic, it is only a little drop in the bucket!" said Infante.

Resendez echoed those sentiments. "We're still a little worried about our parents and everyone who was left out (of the President's plan). We're going to keep fighting until all deportations of working people are stopped," he said.

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