DREAM Advocates: Guarded Optimism on New Immigration Policy

Article excerpt

A newly issued immigration directive from the Obama administration could pave the way for more undocumented students to stay in the United States but falls short of the much-discussed DREAM Act offering such youth a pathway to citizenship, experts say.

"This is a very small down payment on the DREAM Act," says Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. "And the DREAM Act is a small down payment on comprehensive immigration reform," he told Diverse.

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The administration in late August said it would no longer target undocumented students and other low-priority immigration offenders for deportation, instead choosing to focus primarily on those with criminal records. Undocumented students are largely K-12 and college students who illegally came into the U.S. as children with their parents.

Across the political spectrum, immigration and anti-immigration forces are taking widely different views of the new directive, with immigration reform groups calling it a welcome but modest step. While the directive is "long overdue," Flores said, it does not mean the government is adopting the DREAM Act, short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

Under the DREAM plan, undocumented young adults would have a path to citizenship if they came to the U.S. as minors, have lived in the country for five years and have completed two years of college or military service and be of "good moral character." First proposed a decade ago, the DREAM Act has yet to clear Congress despite support from many education groups and the Obama administration.

The House of Representatives in 2010 narrowly approved the bill. It also got a majority vote in the Senate but fell short of the 'super majority' of 60 votes needed to break a filibuster on the legislation in that chamber.

While the directive does not address the DREAM Act, it does send a signal that the federal government is setting priorities for enforcement--a process that helps law-abiding youth. "Focusing on the greatest threats is just plain common sense when it comes to law enforcement," said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.

But critics describe the president's actions as a sweeping, potentially damaging change opposed by the general public. "It amounts to administrative amnesty," Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, told Diverse last week. …