Few Youths to be Deported in New Policy

The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will suspend deportation proceedings against many illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety, said the New York Times.

Senator Richard Durbin, the chief proponent of the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) in the Senate, believes that the new policy will stop the deportation of most illegal immigrants who came to the United States as young children, graduated from high school, and want to go to college or join the armed forces – those who would qualify for relief under the DREAM Act.

As explained in the Future of Children’s Immigrant Children volume and policy brief, the DREAM Act, first introduced in Congress in 2001, would give certain undocumented students the opportunity both to attend college and to become cit­izens by following a two-step process. The first step gives undocumented youth a conditional legal status that allows them to work or attend school without fear of deportation. To qualify, youth must be enrolled in a two-year or four-year college or in trade school, have a high school diploma or General Educational Development credential, have been in the United States continuously for at least five years, have good moral character, and meet a few other requirements. Then, in the second step, youth would have up to six years to apply to upgrade their status to legal per­manent resident (LPR), which in turn would allow them to apply for citizenship. To upgrade their status to LPR and eventually citizenship, immigrant youth would be required, among other things, to maintain good moral character and complete at least two years of college, trade school, or military service. During the second step, the youth would be eligible for fed­eral student loans and some other benefits, but not Pell grants (the major source of federal grant funds for low-income college students) or welfare benefits.

In 2010, the DREAM Act’s most recent congressio­nal run, it passed the House but was defeated in the Senate, when supporters could not muster the sixty votes needed to end a filibuster. The major argu­ments against the act are that it would reward illegal behavior (unauthorized entry to the United States) by granting what opponents call “amnesty,” allow “crimi­nal aliens” to become citizens, cost taxpayers money by allowing some federal and state funds to be spent on undocumented immigrants and thereby deprive some citizens of educational benefits, and allow aliens granted LPR status the right to bring their relatives to the United States. Opponents also argue that by rewarding unauthorized entry, the act would encour­age future illegal entry to the United States.

Perhaps the two strongest arguments in favor of the DREAM Act are that giving people a chance based on academic achievement and good behavior is the American way and that the act will help immigrant youth by boosting their education and will help the nation by allowing it to recoup the investments it has made in their K-12 education.

Under the new initiative outlined in the Times, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, can provide relief, on a case-by-case basis, to young people who are in the country illegally but pose no threat to national security or to the public safety. Although not nearly as comprehensive as the DREAM Act or other legislative immigration reform, this policy could ease fears for undocumented immigrant youth who are pursuing productive education and employment, and contributing positively to the country’s wellbeing, while also strengthening the country’s focus on those illegal immigrants who pose real security threats.

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