Editor's Note: Young people in the Bay Area share their thoughts and emotions surrounding Obama's "deferred action" announcement.
Deferred Action Is a Fit for My Brother, But Not for Me
By Juan Gabriel
When Obama announced the deferred action plan, my phone blew up with text messages and calls from friends and family telling me the "good news." I was excited at the moment, since my entire family had been waiting for some sort of momentum in our legal status. My brother and I are currently undocumented, and deciding on whether we apply for the program or not depends on which of us you ask.
Just last month, my brother graduated from the animation illustration program at San Jose State. But after he graduated, because of employment limitations due to immigration status, he just went back to his job as a grocery bagger. I’m currently still a college student. After reading more about the policy we realized that it makes sense for him to go through the process, whatever that may be. But I’m choosing not to apply.
At my brother’s graduation dinner I saw the pain in his eyes when his friends would ask him what animation studio had offered him a job, or what video game company he wanted to work with. To see him say, "No one has picked me up" was heart breaking. He actually did have a number of employers interested in him, but he felt he could not apply given his status.
My brother got engaged to his girlfriend after 11 years of being together. She is a U.S citizen, and through her he is applying for residency. So we see it as doubling up of his "luck" by also applying for the deferred action policy – an extra layer of temporary protection. I, at least for now, don't have a route to residency, and not knowing what’s going to happen after your two years are up – as the policy states -- is not a chance I’m willing to take. I also make that decision given the backdrop of a recent wave of anti-immigrant laws going into effect across the United States. Although the Supreme Court on Monday struck down three out of four provisions of Arizona’s immigration law, they said it was OK for local law enforcement to ask people for their papers if they have “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the country illegally.
My parents’ stance is to apply for deferred action no matter what limitations or concerns we may have. They told us about the last amnesty that happened, and how many got left out because they didn't apply for fear that it was a trap to get deported. The process to get citizenship through marriage is lengthy and complicated, so who knows? Obama's deferred action plan may be quicker for my brother if it ends up being a stepping stone for residency down the road. At the end all my brother wants to do is utilize the schooling he got, and I am fine with letting this "opportunity" pass me by as long as it benefits my brother.
(Upon request of the author, his name has been changed to protect his identity.)
DREAMers, These “Bread Crumbs” Should Push Us Even Harder for Real Reform
By Luis Romero
I can still remember vividly the morning of June 15th, when I was awakened by a text that I never thought I would receive. It was approximately 7:25am on that Friday when I read a text that said, “BREAKING: White House grants relief from deportation to DREAMers...” I read it quickly and put my phone down and proceeded to process the information in my head as I slowly and gently laid my head back down on my pillow. It did not take much longer for me to hear my oldest brother open his bedroom door only to head to the kitchen and tell our parents the news. He quickly proceeded to my room, only to find me lifting my phone and saying, “I got the text.” My brother did not waste a second as he walked over and gave me a hug and said, “Brother you made it.”
It was a feeling of surprise and disbelief, and at the time little was being said besides the criteria that Obama's deferred action policy would require. As I walked over to the kitchen TV for details of the news, I quickly noticed the expression of happiness on my parents’ faces. My parents did not waste much time as they walked over to hug me and tell me, “Hijo ya la hicistes…son, you made it, all we have endured in this country as undocumented immigrants has been for a better future for you and your brothers, and now you have a chance to prove all you have learned through your struggles!”
It is hard to describe what I felt at the time as many thoughts raced through my mind. I felt happy and yet saddened that the reality of this meant that many of the veterans in the struggle to fight for the DREAM Act would be shut out of an opportunity to receive a work permit, and to be relieved from deportation – due to the age limitation. My focus shifted to the face of my dad as he put his hand on my shoulder and proceeded to weep, and as he looked up at me, he said, “Mijo, don’t ever give up, this is what your mother and I have prayed for, and I am sure this opportunity will lead to something positive in the near future.”
My oldest brother, who is 34 years old, was excited about the news. Yet I could still see a hint of sadness in his eyes as one criteria alone would exclude him from the opportunity for a work permit. I felt a struggle within me between celebration for myself and sadness for my brother. I realized that after all the struggles DREAMers have faced, we would only be given “bread crumbs” at a crucial time of the president’s campaign for re-election. It is not easy to accept that youth would be used as a powerful tool to win the Latino vote. Then again, what other option do folks have when faced with the reality of a Republican nominee who has not supported an opportunity for DREAMers or comprehensive immigration reform?
Many questions cross my mind about what the future holds for the deferred action policy. The most important is what will become of those DREAMers like my brother who have been excluded from this opportunity simply because they are over 30 years old?
Like many, I am fortunate to be able to qualify for the deferred action policy, and even though it is not what we DREAMers have fought for, I believe that it should push us fortunate DREAMers to continue the struggle for a just and concrete immigration reform. I believe that in order for us to know where to go, we need to be reminded of where we came from, and the struggles we overcame in the process. I have heard the fear and doubts many have about this policy, and I can only speak for myself when I say that we have two options regarding the policy: to either accept it and prove the critics wrong, or continue to live in fear of those who have oppressed us for too long.
As an Undocumented Youth, Why I'm Skeptical of Obama's Work
As an undocumented person who meets all of the requirements stated by Obama in his “deferred action” announcement, I started to get very emotional and immediately happy when I first heard about the policy.
After about 10 minutes of daydreaming about what I would do after I get legal residency and don’t have to worry about living in the shadows anymore, I started thinking about all of the actions that the government has taken in the past few years to get rid of the same “illegals” they seem to want to help now. I thought of programs like Secure Communities, which requires police to share the fingerprints of anyone they arrest with federal immigration authorities, essentially making local law enforcement an extension of federal immigration enforcement. The program’s goal is to ensure public safety, but it has led to deportations of innocent people, and the separation of families.
I started reading the Homeland Security memo regarding “deferred action,” trying my best to look at this as a turn around from the prior enforcement-based immigration policies. But as with most government documents, the most important aspects of both the possibilities and limitations of the policy were left unsaid.
I found that the memo only calls for "discretion" in immigration proceedings: As it reads, "DHS cannot provide any assurance that relief will be granted in all cases." (memorandum page 2, line 11) Working closely with various immigration and criminal cases through the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project in San Jose, I know that discretion is impressive on paper, but in practice it is another story. Discretion means you have to trust the authorities to decide whether or not your case is serious enough for deportation, and this can depend on the political standpoint of those who are looking at it.
Among the prerequisites listed for deferred action is that young people cannot have a criminal history. There are a number of good kids that have been in the United States their whole lives and for one reason or another have gotten caught up for just being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or have been wrongfully arrested, or unfairly sentenced.
Another part of the memorandum that caught my eye was about the legal limbo people who signed up for it would be in. The memorandum (page 2 line 24) reads, "ICE should exercise prosecutorial discretion, on an individual basis, for individuals who meet the above criteria by deferring action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, in order to prevent low priority individuals from being removed from the United States." This language states that deferred action is used only as a pause to deportation for a period of two years. If read correctly, one could be subject to deportation two years later if he or she does not meet the assigned criteria that the deferred action program mandates.
And for me, here was the kicker. It reads, "This memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship" (memorandum; Page 3 line 11). This really saddens me for the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people who think the exact opposite. My own parents came up to me saying, "Mijo, you can get your papers now!" Friends are saying, "You're on your way to be legal man, congratulations!"
I wish I could put all of my trust in the government and the steps it takes. But until they prove to do their best, such as actually giving a pathway to some sort of permanent residency or citizenship, I can't. And at the end of the day, that's why I won't be applying for the deferred action policy.
Is the deferred action plan the beginning of some great new immigration reform? Or is this simply a desperate last publicity stunt for some extra votes right before the November elections? You be the judge. Just be sure to use discretion.
(Upon request of the author, his name has been changed to protect his identity.)
Illustration and comic by Adrian Avila // Video By Jean Melesaine