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A Day of Hope for Immigrant Youth: USCIS Accepting Applications for Deferred Action

Children of Immigrants

While I am new on the immigration policy advocacy scene – I’ve only been working for fair immigration policies for children and youth for about six months – what I’ve seen in that short time has been enlightening and moving. It has been great in these few months to meet young undocumented activists, people like Gaby Pacheco, Cesar Vargas and Tolu Olubunmi, and hear their stories of having the odds stacked against them but overcoming those hardships to achieve great things. I was also able to attend the DREAM Act Graduation earlier this summer, where the energy and passion of the young activists packing the standing-room-only church was more intense and palpable than the heat of the DC summer. And I’ve had the privilege to work with some of these incredible people, so today I’m taking some time to celebrate.

Beginning today, over 1 million young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age and meet other criteria will be able to apply for a two year reprieve from deportation and a two year work authorization. A form of administrative relief known as deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), this is major step toward a more sensible immigration system and we should applaud the administration for that. Still, it is not the end of the long road to comprehensive immigration reform.

Deferred action for childhood arrivals was announced by the Department of Homeland Security on June 15. The basic guidelines for eligibility are that an individual: has lived in the U.S. for five continuous years and was in the country on June 15, 2012; is between the ages of 15 and 31; is in school, has graduated from high school or obtained a GED, or has been honorably discharged from the armed services or Coast Guard; and is of good moral character (more detailed guidelines are available in the links below). In addition to the 1.26 million childhood arrivalsthat can apply for administrative relief starting today, there are another half million who are eligible but must wait until they are 15 years old to apply.

This is a significant number of young people who are upstanding American citizens in all but their documentation. They have grown up and gone to school here, and many don’t remember their country of origin. Immigrant students are valuable members of our communities and have the potential to contribute great things to the country. Instead of throwing away the talent of promising young people, deferred action will allow immigrant youth to realize their potential, which will also benefit the country as a whole.

With the celebration and implementation of this new policy, it is also important to remember that deferred action is an incomplete solution. Young people who receive deferred action still have no path to citizenship, and it is unclear what would happen to this policy with a change of administration. To ensure that this common sense approach to immigration enforcement does not change in coming years, and to ensure that qualifying youth have a roadmap to citizenship, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act must be signed into law.

Originally introduced in 2001, the bipartisan DREAM Act was passed in the House of Representatives in 2010 and at multiple times has received majority support in the Senate only to be repeatedly blocked by filibuster. While the specifics have changed throughout the years, the basic tenets have remained the same; giving educated immigrants who were brought here at a young age a chance to realize their dreams and potential with a realistic path to citizenship.

The DREAM Act has garnered supporters at every step of the way. There is now a nation-wide grassroots movement led by undocumented youth themselves working toward passing the DREAM Act and that played a leading role in pushing the administration to implement administrative relief. With this grassroots effort there are now thousands of young people speaking out about their immigration status; once a mark of uncertainty and fear, “undocumented and unafraid” youth reveal their immigration status and are working to publicize their plight and pass the DREAM Act. With deferred action beginning today we can all celebrate a huge victory, but our work is not over yet.

With a new school year just around the corner, marking another year of new hopes and dreams for students, and a new Congress being elected in just a few months, it is important that we show our support for the hopes and dreams of undocumented youth and for a more vibrant and accepting country. This includes voting for candidates who support the DREAM Act and believing in providing deserving undocumented youth a permanent solution.

USCIS will begin accepting applications for deferred action today, August 15, 2012. Additional details are available on the USCIS website, at the National Immigration Law Center (including a Spanish language toolkit) or by calling the USCIS hotline at (800)375-5283.