Last week, the Obama Administration introduced a much-needed dose of rationality and compassion to our immigration system. Beginning on August 15th, the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will now process certain young people who meet the requirements of the DREAM Act for a two year, renewable deportation deferral and allow them to apply for a work permit.
To be eligible for deferred action, young undocumented people under the age of 31 must meet a series of specific requirements. Individuals must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and resided here since 2007. They also must be currently enrolled in school, have obtained a high school diploma or have been honorably discharged from the Armed Forces and be able to pass background checks to show they are not a risk to national security or public safety. Deferred action will be granted for a two-year period, after which recipients may request a renewal. This executive action does not provide an individual a path to a green card or citizenship and does not extend benefits to any family members of the person granted deferred action.
This action does, however, provide hope and a sense of stability for an estimated 1.5 million deserving young people, brought to this country at no fault of their own and raised as Americans. It is the responsible course of action for these individuals and the nation as a whole. In the 1982 case of Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny undocumented children an elementary and secondary education because they are not responsible for the actions of their parents. Yet, upon adulthood, these individuals without legal status find it very difficult to fully contribute to our society by working, pursuing higher education, or serving in the Armed Forces. Our nation’s economic prosperity depends upon increasing the rate of college graduation, particularly in the fields of science, technology and engineering. President Obama’s action will ensure no young person raised in American is blocked from attaining his or her goals and contributing productively to our nation’s economy.
One of these newly eligible young people is an impressive young woman named Nataly. She came to the U.S. at the age of 6 and graduated this year as the valedictorian from Washington Lee High School in Arlington. Thanks to the deferred action policy, Nataly can now focus on starting college where she hopes to study biology and psychology before going to medical school. She will finally be treated with the dignity she not only deserves, but has earned. Nataly’s story reminds us of the valuable contributions immigrants make to our country.
While deferred action will provide an immediate sense of relief to young people across the country, this development should encourage renewed energy for the passage of the DREAM Act. Initially introduced in 2001, the DREAM Act provides permanent legal status for undocumented students who came to the U.S. as children. I was proud to support the bill when it passed the House in 2010, only to be filibustered by Republicans in the Senate. Despite overwhelming support for allowing DREAMers to remain in the country and pursue citizenship, a policy that garnered the approval of 84 percent of the American public in a recent National Journal poll, Republicans have continued their efforts to block this important legislation. Now, the Republican presidential nominee says he would veto the legislation even if it were to pass Congress.
The United States is and always will be a nation of immigrants who come to this country to work hard and provide a better life for themselves and their families. Last month, I was fortunate to attend a naturalization ceremony in Northern Virginia that welcomed over 700 new citizens. According to the Immigration Policy Center, more than 1 in 9 Virginians are foreign-born. Talking with many of these individuals after the ceremony, I was reminded of the energy, strength, and optimism embodied in new Americans that is so critical to the success of our nation. President Obama’s deferred action policy honors this tradition and is a positive first step in the overdue reform of our entire immigration system.
To read more about the deferred action or to begin the process, please visit: www.uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.