Texas Immigrant Advocates: DREAM Act Back on Front Burner
AUSTIN, Texas - With the Obama administration's decision Friday to defer the threat of deportation for hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented U.S. residents, immigration is fast emerging as the sleeper issue this election season. Texas border-community advocates are predicting an increase in political activity by so-called "DREAMers" - individuals brought to the U.S. by their parents when they were children - as they feel more free to speak out without fear of revealing their legal status.
Esther Reyes, a member of the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, says risk-taking DREAMers who have been occupying Obama campaign offices around the country in recent weeks deserve much of the credit for the new policy.
"This is a result of the work of the students, more than anything. It was certainly a testament to their hard work and their boldness and courage to stand up for their rights and justice."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the decision was just the latest step in the administration's year-old commitment to focus deportation efforts on unsavory criminals. Eligible immigrants can request deportation relief in two-year increments, as well as apply for work permits.
While Reyes applauds the move, she says groups like the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition - which she directs - will be monitoring its implementation to be sure applicants and their families aren't exposed to unexpected legal risks. She adds that the effect of the policy shift will be limited, unless Congress bolsters it with legislation.
"We also need full, permanent relief for our undocumented students, because this does not provide a path to citizenship. That is what all undocumented immigrants in this country really are fighting for: to be recognized."
In 2010, "DREAM Act" legislation won majority support in both houses of Congress, but did not survive a filibuster. Reyes hopes the renewed political focus on immigration issues will eventually lead to comprehensive reform of the nation's entire immigration system.
Critics call the Obama policy a politically motivated overreach of authority and backdoor amnesty. Texas Congressman Lamar Smith says it will have "horrible consequences" for unemployed Americans. HoweReyes counters that bringing immigrants out of the shadows will allow them to contribute more fully to the economy.
"These undocumented youths have demonstrated their commitment to this country. We have to recognize what they're actually doing."
The government has set up a hotline, 1-800-375-5283, for questions about eligibility and how to request "deferred action status."