Monday, June 18, 2012

@BarackObama, I'm not cheering yet

This column appears in Spanish in Al Día News, June 22 edition.

If you pay attention to immigration matters, it was hard to ignore the jubilation June 15 as President Obama announced that, via a prosecutorial memo, his administration would change its exercise in priority of deportations for young people who were brought to the nation as children. The young people, between the ages of 15 and 30 and fitting specific criteria, will become eligible for deferred action and a two-year work authorization.

So a lot of my twitter friends — which include a number of DREAM-Act eligible young people and many immigration reform advocates — started celebrating Friday afternoon. “This is HUGE HUGE HUGE,” tweeted Jose Antonio Vargas, whose cover story about undocumented young people had appeared in Time Magazine the day before. A friend who’s been active in many aspects of advocacy for Latinos sent me a message that read, “what incredible news.”

Yeah, okay. Except I wasn’t one of the ones throwing confetti around or sending “thank you” tweets to the president. Call me cynical or cautious, but I’m withholding my celebration until this proves more than just lip-service or — to use Washington Post columnist Ruben Navarrette’s word — hispandering.

The president’s announcement, made as his reelection campaign gears up for November, reeks of desire to sew-up the Latino vote. And plenty on the internet commented on the convenient timing:

- “You waited for four years and you remembered four months before the elections?” tweeted journalist Diego Graglia in Spanish.

- “If this turns out to be another ... PR stunt from @barackobama rather than policy change some peeps better buy teflon shirts,” tweeted DREAM Act activist Anja Asenjo.

The thing is, many of us have made note of the president’s propensity to sell the Latino community a bill of goods that is never delivered:

- “The last time Obama promised a case by case review for prosecutorial discretion less than 2% of cases were completed,” tweeted Alfredo Gutierrez from La Frontera Times.

- “Today’s memo clarified the 2011 Morton Memo which clarified the 2010 Morton Memo. All Memo No Action.” echoed Rigo in his tweet of June 15. (Rigo is part of the IYJL and NIYA, both groups that had urged the president to issue an executive order to grant Dream-Act eligible students lawful residence and a path to citizenship.)

“I think it’s brave of the president,” said one of the reporters in the Al Día newsroom, after we had watched Obama deal with a heckler at his Rose Garden announcement of the memo, but before national anti-immigrant groups had disseminated their statements of outrage.

“What’s brave about it?” I scoffed. “It’s not an executive order. It’s not the Dream Act, not even close. It’s a two-year reprieve. If they’re lucky. That’s it.”

“Two years can mean a lot,” he said.

And it’s the way he said it that made me stop my rant.
I was suddenly very aware that this reporter jumps through hoops every year to get his work authorization renewed so he can stay in this country legally and do a job he has a gift for. There is, I suppose, no way to go through the process without concern that someday something could go very wrong and he might not make it back to the life he’s made for himself in Philadelphia.

Someday, he’s told me, he’d like to have a green card. But only a small number of employment-based green cards are issued for professionals and skilled workers coming from Mexico (just under 6,000 were issued in 2010, for example) and since Mexico is his country of origin, he is also excluded from entering the diversity visa lottery that randomly selects 100,000 winners from a pool of millions of green card seekers.

There is such desire to stay here from so many who recognize this as the country of their hearts, it almost hurts to hear it. “This is real,” tweeted Bessuvia, a DREAM activist, who followed her tweet with the hashmark “#Tears.”

“First thing I am doing is getting a drivers license,” tweeted Gaby Pacheco — another DREAM activist — clearly excited at the prospect of something those of us with documents, or citizens, don’t think too much about.

And there it is: People are celebrating such a little step by the Obama administration as if it were huge because even the little steps have been so few and so hard won.

And so precious.

That’s the part I don’t want to forget. And I don’t want the president to forget it either.


  1. The best post I've found so far about the details to the changes is here:

    Citizen Orange is one of the best immigration law resources I know on the net. On Twitter, it's @MicEvHill. The news, at the policy level, seems to me to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it encourages undocumented people to come out of the shadows. On the other hand, it encourages undocumented people to come out of the shadows with no guarantee that they won't be deported for coming out of the shadows. The process for choosing who qualifies for the 'reprieve', as it were, still relies wholly on DHS discretion. That is, even if you're qualified, you can still be deported.

  2. This is a very very insightful post. The devil is always in the details when it comes to government policies, anywhere in the world, including my own country - India.


Comment on this post: