Young undocumented activists wary of Obama’s new policy; deciding whether to apply
October 28, 2012
Viridiana Martinez has been on the front lines in the debate over immigration reform, organizing protests and getting arrested in acts of civil disobedience. But when the president announced a policy allowing young people like her to temporarily avoid deportation, she was anything but elated.
“It’s all political theater,” said the 26-year-old who came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico when she was 6 and grew up in North Carolina. “For me, at this point, applying for deferred action would be like accepting that theater, and I can’t do that.”
The lukewarm responses of Martinez and other leaders of the so-called DREAMers movement come after they have spent months or even years traveling the country while openly declaring themselves “undocumented and unafraid.” They have gotten themselves arrested, boldly given interviews to the press and allowed their pictures to be taken, and many are known to immigration authorities, who have taken no steps to deport them.
The policy shift announced by President Barack Obama in June provides a two-year protection from deportation to certain young people brought to this country illegally and the chance to apply for a work permit. Now the young activist leaders are deciding whether it’s worth accepting a deal that falls far short of what they’re asking for.
Some, like Martinez, are rejecting the program because its narrow scope doesn’t provide a path to legalization or any security for their families. But others have decided to apply despite misgivings, lured by the chance to get a driver’s license and qualify for in-state tuition in some states and to get a work permit.
Throngs of young people have turned out at events nationwide where immigration lawyers have offered free guidance on completing applications. Still, some are concerned about signaling their presence to immigration authorities. And there are other obstacles: the $465 application fee and the extensive documentation required to prove eligibility.
Last spring, groups of young activists staged sit-ins at Obama campaign offices around the country and gathered signatures asking the president to issue an executive order halting deportations for anyone who would be eligible for the DREAM Act had it passed.
Some believe confusion about the new policy has ended up giving more credit to Obama than he deserves, and that more comprehensive reform may be shelved.
“I’m just afraid that people will push aside immigration as if it was addressed,” said Kim.
The program is not an executive order, but rather a policy directive that will those who are approved in a state of limbo. They will also not be eligible for certain benefits that legal immigrants and American citizens can access.