By Ramon Sahmkow ,AFP
WASHINGTON — With immigration reform facing an uncertain fate in Congress, young people brought to the United States as children are pushing to win residency papers in the country they consider home. They are known as the “Dreamers” — after the DREAM Act that would have given them citizenship had it passed Congress — and now there’s a chance their dreams will become true.
U.S. President Barack Obama has put a temporary system in place to accord them work papers, and 430,236 people qualified to take advantage of it, out of 573,404 who applied. To qualify for the pilot scheme they had to be under 31, have arrived in the U.S. before they were 16, have graduated high school, have a clean criminal record and pay a US$426 processing fee.
Now they want Congress to pass a law making the arrangement permanent, and they’re not shy about leading their own attention-grabbing campaigns to promote it. Although raised in the U.S., many of these young people — generally Latin Americans — cannot get a driver’s license, open a bank account, receive scholarship money or work legally. Deportation to the land of their parents would mean discovering a sometimes unknown country and culture, and even relearning a language in which some are no longer fluent. The Dreamers themselves have been the most effective advocates for immigration reform, said Gary Segura, co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions. “They are really helpful at making the immigration cause more palatable, and the more acceptable it is to general Americans, the more likely that Congress would be to eventually vote,” he said. In 2011, young, undocumented immigrants called on U.S. President Barack Obama to stop deportations and change the American immigration system under a bill called the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
A year later, a revamped version of the measure gave Dreamers work permits and protection from deportation. Individuals aged 15 to 30 who came to the U.S. before they were 16, are studying or have graduated from high school, and have not been in legal trouble are able to request consideration. According to official figures, some 365,000 young people have applied under the measure, which does not provide legal status. Now, as a more ambitious bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants makes its way through the Republican-led House after passing the Senate, the Dreamers are stepping up their noisy public campaign. Activists delivered hundreds of cantaloupes at the beginning of the month to Republican lawmakers. The stunt followed Republican Congressman Steve King’s assertion that for every undocumented immigrant who is a valedictorian there are another hundred with “calves the size of cantaloupes” hauling marijuana across the desert. Earlier, in July, nine young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as children demonstrated against immigration law by attempting to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico.
They were arrested at the border then released on parole and now await possible asylum. The Dreamers’ “highly visible and controversial tactics could help mobilize favorable opinion and pro-migrant movement participants,” said Matthew Ward, an immigration specialist at the University of Southern Mississippi. “It’s easy for the public to treat undocumented aliens as if somehow they are wildly different from other Americans, and these young people just want to get a driver’s license and go to college,” Segura said.