David Seidman, a Summer 2012 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
President Barack Obama announced on Friday that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would halt the deportations of more than 800,000 undocumented students, even as immigration advocates expressed concerns over the lack of Congressional action in establishing a permanent path to citizenship.
The new “deferred action” policy grants eligible undocumented students and honorably discharged soldiers — those 15-30 years old and without a criminal record — a two-year work permit and deferral of deportation with the option for continuous renewal. The executive action follows the 2010 Republican blockage of the DREAM Act, which would have established a path to permanent residency for eligible undocumented students.
Amid the cheers and impromptu rally, undocumented students and advocates, speaking in both Spanish and English, expressed their support for the new policy. Advocates said the change in policy would end a culture of fear and uncertainty that discouraged undocumented students, many of whom had no say in their decision to immigrate, from seeking opportunities in higher education and the job market. Yves Gomes, an undocumented college student, said that he arrived in the United States when he was one and a half, speaks only English and hopes that the new policy will encourage undocumented students to work harder in school knowing they could legally find a job within their fields of study. Michael Patrick of Casa de Maryland said the change in policy was an important first step in establishing a long-term, national solution. Other rally participants included Maryland State Senator Victor Ramirez and representatives from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), Amnesty International, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Obama’s announcement marked the 30th anniversary of Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court decision establishing a right to public education for undocumented children. The change in policy comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of S.B. 1070, the “show me your papers” law that civil rights advocates argue undermines the federal government’s authority over immigration enforcement and legalizes racial profiling.