Last Friday, in a historic announcement, President Obama used his executive power to do something young immigrant activists have been tirelessly organizing around for years: grant relief to DREAMers.
Meaning that certain undocumented young people will have a two-year period free from fear of deportation, and be allowed to work. This executive initiative applies to: those who arrived in the U.S. when they were under 16 and are currently not over 30, are in school, graduated from high school, or are military veterans, have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years, and haven’t been convicted of a crime.
The significance of this cannot be overstated. During the announcement, I was lucky enough to be at an immigration conference and in the company of DREAMers and activists who fought in the trenches to strengthen the undocumented youth movement.
There were a lot of tears, celebrating…and questions, for there are many important things this action doesn’t address.
The initiative does not guarantee a path to citizenship — it is, as Obama himself said: “a temporary stopgap measure”. To create a path to legal permanent residence (and eventually, citizenship), we still need to pass DREAM legislation…a bill that Obama has pledged to sign, and which was blocked by Senate Republicans in 2010.
This relief also leaves many individuals out….like Jose Antonio Vargas, a gay Filipino Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who “came out” as undocumented in last year’s New York Times — and a major galvanizing force in the undocumented movement. Vargas is on the current cover of TIME Magazine for its daring (for mainstream media) article. He is also 31 years old.
While many still think of immigration — and “illegal” immigration in particular — as a Latino or Mexican issue, the truth is that undocumented migrants deeply affect our APIA communities: they are part of us. About 10% of DREAMers are API, and they make up an estimated 45% of the undocumented student population in the University of California system alone (check out these excellent Hyphen articles by Momo Chang here and here).
So while APIs have often been left out of the mainstream immigration narrative, we need to double down to make our voices heard. Not only to advocate for our own communities, but to support our undocumented sisters and brothers regardless of race, ethnicity, sexuality, or any other characteristics that are manipulated to make us into the “Other” and exclude us from fully participating in a democracy we’ve fought to contribute to. Because that is the only way we will win. And when DREAMers win, so does America.