On August 15, the first of perhaps a million or more people who qualify for the DREAM Act will begin stepping forward to apply and pay fees for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a form of temporary deportation relief for undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria. Each case will be evaluated individually, but I am encouraging those who meet the basic criteria to consider applying for DACA or at least get all the information they can about whether it is the right thing for them. Thousands will join me and Senator Dick Durbin, the author of the DREAM Act, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago at the Navy Pier for a workshop on the new program conducted by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and numerous local groups.
Almost all of the young people I have talked to are eager to come forward. They fought hard for deportation relief and want to be able to work, drive, go to school, and fight on for broader, permanent immigration reform, including the DREAM Act. But for those who are hesitant, I suggest that there are at least ten reasons you should come forward if you qualify:
1) The young people who come forward for relief under the deferred action program will be taking the first steps on behalf of the estimated 10-12 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States and who will someday be full members of our society.
2) Our community fought for this, protested, marched, got arrested, went to jail, and we will make it work for our DREAM-eligible youth and for the United States. We will not tolerate delays, double-speak, broken promises, opportunism, fraud or anyone taking advantage of poor or desperate people. This is a turning point in the history of immigration to this land and we will make it a bright moment in that history.
3) Hiding in the shadows left us vulnerable; coming out into the light makes us strong and protects us. By standing together, we will ensure that the young people who sign up for deferred action will be politically bulletproof. Any future President or Secretary of Homeland Security will have one hell of a fight on their hands if they try to deport this contingent of DREAM-eligible youth en masse.
4) It is inevitable that broader, fuller and permanent legalization is coming for most of the estimated 10-12 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States. There is no other alternative to getting those who live here into the system, on the books, and right with the law. And the institutions of civil society, from government agencies to churches to community groups, will be ready to help manage this process come August 15. The process of moving 1 million or more young immigrants from undocumented status to protected status through deferred action will take time and dedication, but it is good practice for things to come.
5) If in the next few months the immigration status of deferred action immigrants is questioned, they will have proof that they have registered and are in the process of gaining protection from deportation. They will have tangible evidence that they have been here for a long time and want to fully participate in this country's affairs. In a few weeks or a few months from now, if someone is pulled over, witness a crime, or have the misfortune to get tangled up in the racial profiling dragnet of states and communities that have passed anti-immigrant laws, they will have proof that they are being processed for deferred action and will not be incarcerated simply for their immigration status. This is a benefit not just to the individual DREAMer and their family, but to the community at large as law enforcement can now concentrate on actual threats to community safety.
6) The DREAMers adopted the slogan and credo "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" and we honor the amazing and courageous organizing, advocacy, and civil disobedience that the DREAM Act advocates have done for years--fighting against deportation and fighting for inclusion. Some were arrested, some were deported, some are now too old to participate in this new opportunity, and some gave up hope; but all set a standard for us that says we cannot slow down or give up because there is still so much left to be done. We are done hiding our identities. DREAMers, immigrants, their friends and families are loud, proud and are not retreating behind a wall of secrecy.
7) Right now, millions of people work in America without the protection of U.S. labor law, making them and their coworkers vulnerable to exploitation. By ensuring that labor laws, wage and hour laws, and health and safety laws are followed, we improve wages and working conditions across the labor force, ensure tax compliance, and force employers to compete on an even playing field. Work authorization for DREAM-eligible youth is a step in the right direction and unlocks the potential of DREAMers to contribute more fully to their country and community.
8) Past experience with temporary deportation relief tells us that the process may not be perfect, but it is extremely beneficial to our country and the individual immigrants themselves. Each applicant will need patience, paperwork, "plata" and in some cases, some will need thorough legal advice on how or whether to sign-up for the program. But community groups, clergy, elected officials, and many others can help with the paperwork and some may be able to help with the fees. To immigrant communities, the message is clear: You are not alone and we will be with you until the end. But what you invest in this program will be paid back many times over. Just as clear is that what America invests in making this program work will come back many times over.
9) The anti-immigrant groups in Washington and elsewhere want immigrants to stay in the shadows and perish there or go away. Nothing will make them sadder than a group of fine, intelligent, well-mannered young people stepping forward to say "thank you for the protection and relief and we would like more, for ourselves, our country, our families, and our communities." Republicans in the House and Senate are threatening to sue President Obama because he is protecting DREAMers from deportation. Coming forward is a great way of ruining their day. They can't stop this. It is happening.
10) DREAMers, you grew up here. You went to school here. Your friends are here. For most of you, your family is here, your sports team, your favorite foods. You are probably more "American" than "immigrant" at this point. So let's have the paperwork catch up with reality. Let's get you on the books and protected from deportation first. A work authorization second. A driver's license third. And then let's work together to make your legal status permanent and extend immigration reform so that we reestablish immigration as a fundamental attribute of America's vitality and success.