DREAM Act: Questions and answers about President Obama's immigration order for undocumented children

This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary, stopgap measure. Photo: Young DREAMers show their support for Obama's decision AP

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2012 — A week ago, President Obama made a bold move. His executive order temporarily addresses a humanitarian need faced by young people living in danger of being deported to a country they never knew, having been brought here by their parents.

Without a DREAM Act, the DREAMers, as these young hopefuls are known have no chance to become part of our society, even if they were brought here as babies in their parents’ arms, later graduating from an American high school.

The DREAM Act for now is just that, a dream.

What President Obama did was to circumvent Congress by issuing an executive order that allows DREAMers a chance at the American dream, even if it is temporary. He halted the deportation of at least 800,000 (and it could be as high as over a million) illegal immigrants who were brought here as children.

As Obama said, these DREAMers are Americans “in every single way but one: on paper.”

Young DREAMer listening to the Presidents’ announcement AP

“This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship.

It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to … patriotic young people. It’s the right thing to do.” President Obama says.

Some are calling the President’s gutsy move the DREAM Act Lite. Whatever you call it, it has raised both hopes of young illegal immigrants and lots of questions.

After the President’s announcement last week many questions, some directed her to Ad Lib, were raised as people are trying to make sense of what it would mean for them.

This week’s column attempts to answer some of those questions or in the least guide readers where to go for more information.

Questions from Readers:

1. Did President Obama just pass the DREAM Act?

No, only the Congress has the power to do that. He basically gave a slight reprieve to thousands of undocumented youth and a chance for them to move forward to get a job or go to college.

However, there are states like Georgia that insist they will still deny DREAMers access to their college system no matter what.

2. Is an executive order the same as a law?

Not quite. Executive Orders are legally binding orders given by the President, who as the head of the government is also the head of all federal agencies, allowing him to direct those agencies on how to exercise their policies.

In this case, the President directed the Department of Homeland Security to stop the deportation of younger undocumented immigrants (under 30), even though Congress has twice refused to pass the DREAM Act.

Be sure to visit the Homeland Security website and see exactly what the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano wrote in her memo, which is a truly great source of information. Don’t skip it.

3. Why is Obama’s announcement important since it doesn’t lead to citizenship?

It will decriminalize the status of the DREAMers until a bill can be passed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and  Customs and Border Protection have been told to immediately start reviewing individual cases and stop eligible immigrants from being put into removal proceedings.

Those young adults already in the proceedings can be granted deferred action for two years and then may apply for renewal. They will be given work permits as each case is assessed.

4.Why is it only for two years? What happens after two years? Am I taking a risk by coming out of the shadows?

Young LA DREAMers took to the streets to celebrate the moratorium on deportation AP

 

While no official reason is given for the two-year moratorium, it seems likely that the President is expecting Congress to pass the DREAM Act within the next two years.

If Obama is reelected president and Congress has not done so, then he would extend the executive order. 

You could be taking a risk since you have now supplied the government with your name and information and if the next president does not renew the executive order or if Congress does not pass the DREAM Act, your status could be precarious.

This is not to scare you, but to make sure you are reaching a thoughtful decision. So do your homework on this one.

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For more on the President’s executive order, read: DREAM Act: Basics of what undocumented youth must do to not be deported.

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5. How do I apply? Where do I go?

Although Obama’s executive order was effective immediately, it will need 60 days to set up the application process. However, young people are being encouraged to start the process now if you are not in the pipeline for deportation proceedings. You should to go the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website and apply for a work permit. Under Search, type in the words application for Work Authorization or Work Permit and apply. (Update: However, there is still some confusion about when the official date is when you can offiically apply, so keep checking in at USCIS. First the people in the current deportation system have to be looked at and reclassified before moving to new applicants.)

You will have to be able to show you have the documentation needed to meet the required criteria. Simply put, you must be able to prove:

* you were brought here under the age of 16;

* you have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years preceding the date of the executive order and are currently in the U.S. as of the date of memorandum;

* you are currently in school, graduated from high school, received your GED, or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast guard;

* you have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or multiple misdemeanors, or otherwise been a threat to national security or the public safety;

* you are not over 30 years old.

6. Does this change my visa study status?

There is nothing in the memorandum from Homeland Security that addresses this issue. I would assume not, because with a study visa, you are here legally. But you need to double check by going to the USCIS website.

7. Do I need a lawyer?

Lawyers cost money, sometimes a lot of money. However, you might take a look at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. But most likely there are also non-profit groups who are immigration advocates in your own community or at your church, who could guide you through the process. 

Just stay realistic and understand this will not open the path to U.S. citizenship for DREAMers nor make you or them a legal resident. But it does give you an opportunity to apply for jobs legally, which means fair pay and not being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous employer, and the knowledge that you can stay in America without the fear of deportation.

It is a start, only a baby step along the road to the DREAM Act, but it is an important first step.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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