One year has completely changed DREAMer Luis Martinez ‘s life.
A year ago today, President Obama‘s program that allows young Dreamers to stay in the country and work began being implemented. For Martinez, that has meant “finally” putting his degree from University of California Santa Cruz to work.
“I am now able to drive without fear of being pulled over and get it taken away, I can work legally, able to provide for my family, and like I said, now I am going to be able to pursue a career in computer engineering,” he says.
For undocumented immigrants like Martinez, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) grants them two years in the U.S. to work and live without fear of deportation. Eligible DREAMers can apply for work permits, drivers’ licenses and establish their careers after college. Many DREAMers, both high school and college graduates alike, now can put their degrees to use.
After one year of the executive order being implemented, over 430,000 DREAMers across the country who were approved for DACA have celebrated their new lifestyles as they can live without fear of deportation.
But for many, the program is just the beginning of immigration reform.
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Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janey Napolitano, who announced the program with the President last June, said today that the program isn’t permanent and should not serve as an excuse to pass on immigration reform.
“DACA is not a long term solution to the broader challenges presented by our nation’s outdated immigration system,” Napolitano argued in the statement on the DHS website.
She continued to say the U.S. immigration and deportation policies are not meant to be followed blindly and cases should consider individual circumstances.
“Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified in DACA cases,” Napolitano wrote. “And, by removing the threat of deportation for people brought to the country as children, we have been able to continue to focus our enforcement efforts on serious criminals, public safety threats, and those who pose a danger to national security.”
Congressman Luis Gutierrez, one of immigration reform biggest proponents, called the deportation policy overhaul a “turning point” that put reform into perspective.
“When we get a broader immigration bill passed this year, it is going to require a massive civil undertaking to get people in the system and on the books, but DACA was a good dress rehearsal,” the Illinois Congressman said. “Reform that only legalizes the DREAMers and does not address the status of their parents and other undocumented immigrants in our communities would be unacceptable.”
Don Lyster, the director of the National Immigration Law Center’s Washington D.C. office, said that while DACA has allowed DREAMers to begin putting their degrees to work by entering the professional workforce, it does not offer a path to citizenship for DREAMers and they will have to reapply in two years.
“DACA only provides temporary relief,” Lyster says. “There is no opportunity, once you get deferred action, to apply for citizenship. It also does not provide access to legal permanent residence or a green card, and you still need to apply for naturalization.”
In fact, for some young immigrants, DACA wasn’t a starting point at all. Arthur Cruz, 17, missed the 16-year-old age restriction to apply for DACA and is considering going back to Mexico now he has his GED.
“Right now I am taking classes at my community college to get my degree in engineering,” Cruz says. “Philosophically I consider myself a DREAMer, even though I do not qualify. But we need comprehensive immigration reform regardless so people like me can provide for our families.”
Many immigrants are hoping for a more comprehensive and permanent immigration reform to be passed in Washington. But the Senate bill passed in June has stalled in the House, where Republicans prefer to deal with reform in a piecemeal fashion.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, one of the architects of the Senate bill, had a message for his fellow Republicans earlier this week: pass reform or the President will act.
He warning Congress that President Obama may issue an executive order for immigration reform like he did for DACA.
“I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, to issue an executive order as he did for the Dream Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen. Now, we won’t get an E-Verify, we won’t get any border security. But he’ll legalize them,” Rubio said in an interview Tuesday on WFLA’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.
Meanwhile, DREAMers like Martinez, are awaiting action.
He says immigrants who are hanging in the balance are paying taxes to the government and do not have the opportunity to get money back in a tax return.
“They are paying the government to live here,” he says.