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A Lifeline for DREAMers

Anthony D. Romero,
ACLU Executive Director
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June 15, 2012

Today the Obama administration threw a lifeline to America’s immigrant youth, announcing that it will stop deporting and give work permits to young adults who came to the U.S. as children, or DREAMers. Through well-established executive authority, the administration will temporarily spare youth educated in America’s schools from expulsion from the United States.

This announcement is especially fitting today, the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Plyler v. Doe. In Plyler, the Court held that all children in America are entitled to a basic public education, regardless of immigration status. The DREAMers are Plyler’s legacy—students who have worked hard to achieve their educational and career goals and become contributing members of society.

“Today, the administration has provided these young adults the opportunity to pursue the American Dream,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “For years, DREAMers have lived with the constant nightmare that they will be deported from the only home they’ve ever known.”

The threat of deportation has haunted the lives of students like Heydi Meija, who, as reported by the Washington Post, was brought to the United States from Guatemala at age four and recently graduated with honors from Meadowbrook High School in Richmond, Virginia. Heydi had planned to go to college, until immigration officers came to her family’s apartment in December, turning her senior year into a countdown to deportation. Today, the nightmare for students like Heydi has come to an end, at least for a while.

Under the new policy, DREAMers will be eligible for “deferred action” for two years (subject to renewal) if they arrived in the U.S. before age 16, are younger than 30; have been in the U.S. for at least five continuous years; graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the U.S. armed forces; and have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

This important victory is a testament to the power of the immigrant youth movement and its inspiring young leaders like recent guest-blogger Lorella Praeli of United We Dream, or Victor Palafox, an Alabama community organizer whom we recently hosted at our celebration of Plyler in Washington, D.C. The ACLU has proudly stood with the DREAMers at the national level and in states like Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Rhode Island, and celebrates their victory today.

But today’s stopgap is not enough. The President cannot provide our promising immigrant youth with what they ultimately need—a path to U.S. citizenship. For a permanent solution, Congress must pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to our country as children and graduate from high school. For over a decade, America’s business executives, military commanders, college presidents, mayors, and faith leaders have called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act, yet Congressional Republicans have blocked the DREAM Act from final passage. So as we celebrate today’s victory, we call on all Members of Congress to pass the DREAM Act and protect and build America’s future.

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