Through three presidents over a decade, young undocumented immigrants known
as “dreamers” have emerged as a potent political force and
the sympathetic public face of the immigration debate.
Since 2012, roughly 800,000 have secured permits from the government allowing
them to work without fear of deportation under an Obama-era program. Eighty-six
the public favors allowing them to permanently remain in the country. Cultural icons from
Barack Obama to Kim Kardashian West have sent messages of support.
“I stand with the Dreamers,” Kardashian West
wrote on Twitter in September.
But even as the dreamers, brought to the country illegally as children,
have become more closely integrated into the fabric of American society,
their very political success has exposed them to the whims of Washington’s
legislative impotency. Since the George W. Bush administration they have
been buffeted by a severe whiplash of extraordinary policy victories —
and crushing defeats.
This month, the dreamers face the biggest test yet of their political clout —
a make-or-break moment in their long path to the precipice of becoming
fully legalized residents. A loss would mean a devastating return to living
in the shadows and the perpetual fear of being deported.
President Trump, who
ended the Obama-era deferred action program in September, has set a March 5 deadline for lawmakers to act before the
bulk of the permits begin to expire at a rate of nearly 1,000 per day.
Most on Capitol Hill said a deal must realistically be done before the
end of December because a bipartisan agreement would become more difficult
in a midterm election year.
For the dreamers, the moment has reactivated a nationwide political network
honed over the past decade. Motivated anew, they are planning to ramp
up the emotional, in-your-face demonstrations that have brought them to
“This is the moment,” said Cristina Jiménez, executive
director and co-founder of United We Dream, the nation’s largest
dreamer organization. The group is planning a major mobilization Wednesday
in which thousands of members are expected to flock to Washington to lobby Congress.
“It’s higher stakes for us in comparison to other fights,”
Jiménez said. “The reason why is we’re facing the most
aggressive immigration enforcement environment in our lifetime.”
This fight could have even greater consequences: Some Democrats have suggested
they will not support a must-pass spending bill without a deal that offers
the dreamers a path to citizenship. Last week, Republican Reps. Carlos
Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both of Florida,
added their names to that list. More than two dozen other moderate GOP lawmakers are expected
to make similar pledges in the coming days.
At the same time, Trump — who had previously suggested he would take
care of the dreamers — has sent recent signals that he would support
a spending bill without a dreamer provision. In tweets, the president
has blasted Democrats for obstructing a deal and favoring policies to
allow more illegal immigration.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he doubts whether Trump truly wants
to help dreamers after being stung by political blowback from his base
over the issue.
“I was troubled that he’s talked about the illegal immigrants
pouring into the United States unaccounted for — that isn’t
even close to the definition of a dreamer,” Durbin said.
In some regards, though, the dreamers already have won the battle of public
opinion: 86 percent support allowing them to stay in the country, according to
a Washington Post/ABC News poll in September.
The broad support reflects the dreamers’ political success in telling
their own narrative, a process that began in the final years of the Bush
administration amid ramped-up immigration enforcement raids. As dreamers
were caught up in the dragnet, they began to go public with their stories,
daring authorities to make them a target.
The dreamers’ modeled their nascent political strategy after gay
and lesbian activists who made themselves the faces of their movement.
The hope was that the country would see the younger immigrants as responsible
students and members of their communities.
“Up until then, the narrative was of immigrants as victims, as living
in the shadows,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director
of the National Immigration Law Center, which acted as an incubator for
the group that became United We Dream in 2008.
Although Democrats had introduced the Dream Act, seeking to provide a pathway
to citizenship, in 2001, the idea of pushing for legal status for a fraction
of the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants was initially
controversial even among immigration advocates. The dreamers, a group
estimated at up to 1.5 million, are considered the most publicly sympathetic
of the undocumented population, given that they had no choice in their
arrivals in the country.
If they were to achieve legal status, some advocates cautioned, that would
make it more politically difficult for others, including their parents.
“This notion that pits dreamers against their own parents —
it’s flawed,” Jiménez said. “The framework here
as a community is to protect the entire community, and there are strategic
decision points made in the last decade or so to be able to bring some
good news and to be able to protect some members of our community.”
Frustrated by the failure of comprehensive immigration reform under Bush
in 2007 and by President Obama’s inaction on immigration during
his first two years, the immigrant rights movement pushed forward on a
version of the Dream Act in 2010.
The bill passed in the House but failed by five votes in the Senate.
After the loss, dreamers turned their political activism on the Obama White
House, holding marches and other demonstrations to protest a record level
of deportations in Obama’s first term. In early 2012, under mounting
pressure to streamline a huge backlog of immigration cases, Homeland Security
Secretary Janet Napolitano proposed a deferred action program to allow
dreamers to apply for renewable, two-year work permits.
In June 2012, Obama announced the creation of Deferred Action for Childhood
Arrivals (DACA) during remarks in the Rose Garden punctuated when a reporter
for a conservative news site
interrupted the president to ask why the policy favors “foreigners over American workers.”
“I didn’t ask for an argument,” Obama responded, but
then answered: “Here’s the reason: because these young people
are going to make extraordinary contributions, and are already making
contributions to our society.”
“That was one of the most important moments in the immigrant rights
movement,” Hincapié said. “This was a victory fought
for and won by the people who were directly impacted.”
That’s why, advocates said, it would be so painful if the dreamers
lose DACA protections. Having worked openly for five years, they are now
facing the prospect of returning to a life on the margins.
“Any debate on immigration once someone has legal status, the carnage
and human suffering in moving from legal status to illegal status is incredibly
compelling,” said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney and former
aide to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) who worked on a 2013 immigration bill.
In 2015, a federal judge in Texas blocked Obama’s bid to create a
larger deferred action program for up to 4 million immigrant parents of
U.S. citizens. The injunction remained in place after the Supreme Court
deadlocked, 4 to 4, on the case last year.
This summer, Texas and several other states threatened to sue the Trump
administration over DACA, prompting Trump to rescind it in September,
saying the program was unconstitutional.
Ironically, it is Trump whose actions could finally push the dreamers over
the top in their long campaign to win legal status.
“He will absolutely get credit for that,” Hincapié said.
“If I were advising him, it would be something to get behind, and
he could say whatever he wants to say to his base. At the end of the day,
he’s the leader of the Republican Party, and it’s something
his party needs, something the country needs, and it’s good for
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/this-is-the-moment-dreamers-face-make-or-break-push-on-immigration-fight-with-trump/2017/12/03/df02aab0-d6a3-11e7-95bf-df7c19270879_story.html?utm_term=.8567c6eb2f89
REVILLA LAW FIRM, P.A.
Miami immigration law firm
Antonio G. Revilla III is a Former U.S. Immigration Prosecutor and a Miami
immigration attorney with over 25 years of legal experience. He has successfully
represented clients throughout the country and prevented them from being
deported from the United States. Mr. Revilla is known throughout the immigration
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