New Orleans By far the best news from the USA while I was travelling in India, was (finally!) the executive order by President Obama to break through the quarrelsome, partisan logjams for immigrants and provide some relief for the young people trapped by circumstance and parental decisions in the country illegally, but trying to build a life with a future in their new country. Of all of the immigration reform struggles over the last four years that I have been close to, this was the one that had the most courage, the clearest base, and other than disunited families (millions where some are citizens and some are not and the American policy needs to unify them as citizens), the most inarguable position of moral rectitude. There was never a question of whether the DREAM youth would win, but when they would win.
Obama’s move was one of those rare instances where good politics is also good policy, and allowed him to seize some of the clearest high ground in the contentious immigration debate. There had been a very obvious sign that relief was coming for the DREAM folks, and it had come from an unusual source, Tea Party darling, Cubano Republican, and oft mentioned Republican prospect for VP, Senator Mark Rubio from Florida. When he had proposed recently modified DREAM support, political space opened up for DREAM, and Obama to his credit, drove for the basket for a change, rather than launching an air ball.
Reading tweets and Facebook postings from many of the DREAM activists, there is no question that folks are happy at the progress, but there is also restraint since the devil is in the details, and the details of Obama’s executive order are still unknown. The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Aliens Minors Act) initially proposed almost a dozen years ago by Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) through a series of bells and whistles had offered a path to citizenship for young people who had ended up in the USA as children, been here for 5 years, gone to school or joined the military, successfully handled both, then they would have gotten a 6-year temporary residency which if successfully handled would have allowed citizenship. The measure had failed despite having President Bush’s support and had been reintroduced under Obama. Many of the reform advocates believing DREAM was the best card in their hand tried to wrap DREAM into a larger reform package, but were unable to get traction in 2009. The bill took on a separate political life as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) struggled for re-election and was reintroduced in 2011 yet again, though continued to fall short despite being larded up with additional caveats and restrictions.
Obama’s executive order, as announced, is another dilution of the original DREAM promise. The prize now is a work permit or so-called green card. There is no path to citizenship. What’s given can also be taken away. Since no one knows how all of this will be implemented, some immigration reform leaders have continued to withhold an endorsement because many of the Obama Administrations immigration policies have been more draconian than those under Bush, and deportations and job pushouts have exceeded Bush totals by far. There still may be way too much devil in these details after all of the big smiles now have faded away.
Nonetheless this is a huge relief for young people – many of whom I have known personally – who have been living under the constant knife of threatened deportation to countries that in many cases they have never known. It’s time now to praise progress in these troubled times and to hope – and work – for a situation that will guarantee that this is DREAM comes true.