Dreamers are flexing their political muscle. Today, over 100 immigrant youth leaders convened in Washington D.C. and participated in over 70 meetings with legislators from both parties. As Congress is tackling how to reform the nation’s immigration laws, Dreamers presented their own 20-point plan today, including a direct pathway to citizenship for all, more reasonable eligibility requirements and family reunification.
“The time is now, and Dreamers are ready and excited for this fight, and we won’t stop until we win,” said Cristina Jimenez, Managing Director of United We Dream, during a conference call today with several members of their organization.
Jimenez and other United We Dream leaders met yesterday with President Obama.
“We set forth our agenda,” said Jimenez, who said they pressed the President on supporting a clear pathway to citizenship for all undocumented families, not just Dreamers. Jimenez also said they challenged the President on deportation and the “inhumane detention” of families, as well as an “out of control enforcement system.” Obama’s answer, according to Jimenez, was that the best way to stop deportations is through legislative reform, which he outlined as a top priority.
But as members of Congress work on crafting possible immigration legislation, the sticking point is how to bring the nation’s approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.
“This is perhaps the most contentious piece in all the immigration talks,” says Blanca Flor Guillen-Woods, a senior project manager for Latino Decisions, a Latino political research and polling firm.
In a House Judiciary meeting yesterday, Idaho Republican Congressman Raul Labrador voiced whether there could be a way to legalize the undocumented without a direct pathway to citizenship. “I worked with many people who wanted to be legal residents, to be able to work and be able to travel. To feel like a dignified human. If we can find a compromise short of a pathway to citizenship but it’s not kicking out 12 million people, why can’t we do that?” said Labrador.
Dreamers responded today by calling Labrador’s suggestion a “dead end.” Sofia Campos, who heads United We Dream’s Board of Directors, said “my family is the reason why I’m here, they’re the reason why I’m a productive member of society – we are committed to fighting for our family all the way,” she said.
The Dreamers are calling for undocumented adults to be eligible for temporary immigration status immediately, followed by legal residency in 2 years and citizenship in 5 years. This, however, goes against legislators who think that undocumented immigrants should not have the same timeline as those who came legally.
Today, Daniel Garza of The Libre Initiative, a center-right Latino group which advocates for less government intervention, put out his group’s proposals for reform. Garza says the important thing is have the nation’s undocumented be able to work legally and contribute further to the economy, and one way to start is through employment visas.
“We would also be open to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants if that is politically viable, but at a minimum, let’s get legality for undocumented immigrants first and not let the need for reform get stuck on politics,” said Garza. Unlike other conservative groups, Garza does not think legalization should be tied to border enforcement. ”Border security is a massive expansion of government, and we are fine where we are,” he says.
There is another point where Garza’s group agrees with an increasing number of legislators from both parties – and that is on an immediate citizenship path for Dreamers. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said to a conservative group that one way to tackle reform is to start with the “kids,” saying, “One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents.”
House Speaker John Boehner, who has a key role in shepherding any immigration legislation through the House, did not come out and agree with Cantor, but said a pathway to citizenship is “worthy of consideration.”
In the meantime, Dreamers are in Capitol Hill, meeting with legislators on the need to bring everyone into a path to citizenship. “Dreamers know they have the most support, and they are using it to try to increase the opportunity for other folks to gain citizenship,” says Latino Decisions’ Guillen-Woods. “We don’t if it will work yet, but they do have support.”