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Dreams still deferred, but moving forward thanks to new Obama policy

Dreams still deferred, but moving forward thanks to new Obama policy

Published: December 13, 2012
Yazmin holds a sign that says "No human being is illegal"

Getting her deferred action approval meant Yazmin, a longtime advocate for immigration policy reform who graduated from college last year, could get a job.

Photo: AFSC

In June, when high school junior Ivania heard the news about a new immigration policy, she thought for a moment that this was it—that Congress had passed the DREAM Act. Maybe medical school was not too much of a stretch after all; maybe she would be able to qualify for grants and get a part-time job to pay for a psychology degree at the University of Iowa.

The reality wasn’t quite that—there was still no clear path to citizenship, no permanent policy reform. But with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the executive policy announced and initiated in summer 2012, life has gotten a little easier for many young immigrants like Ivania—the “dreamers” who came to the U.S. as children. (Watch Ivania and others talk about their aspirations.)

In November, approvals started to trickle in for people who had applied in August; by the middle of the month, over 50,000 young people had been notified. At this rate, the number of applicants granted deferred action through the program is expected to reach 100,000 by the end of the year.

The implications of an approval vary from state to state. In addition to exemption from deportation (the “deferred” action) for two years, those approved get a work authorization and a Social Security number. In some states, that’s enough to get a driver’s license, making it possible to get a job and actually get to it. But elsewhere, state and local authorities have the discretion to grant licenses—and they often decide not to in individual cases, without explanation.

That’s been true for Roberto,* an Iowa dreamer, who went to the American Friends Service Committee in Des Moines for assistance with his deferred action application.

Born in Mexico, Roberto has lived in the United States for nearly 20 years and sees himself as more American than Mexican, though he’s proud of his heritage. He recently received his bachelor’s degree and is looking for a job as a field organizer for a nonprofit organization.

With his work authorization card and Social Security number, Roberto says that a “great burden” has been lifted. “This is the only opportunity I had to become what human law considers legal,” he says.

Yet the local transportation department is refusing to issue him a driver’s license. “The road of people not liking us continues,” he says. “You can never see the [mountain] peak; you just climb the mountain until you depart from this earth.”

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, years of hard work in school and hope for a fair chance at making a living have paid off for Yazmin. After her deferred action application was approved this month, she got her work authorization, Social Security number, driver’s license—and a job. She has just accepted a job as a national organizer with a farmworker advocacy organization.

“I still feel like it’s not real,” she says about getting the approval. “After so many years I finally got the chance.”

Yazmin set her sights on a college education early on. She was an honor student in high school when many of her undocumented friends felt discouraged about their futures. “I started hearing people telling me, ‘Why are you trying so hard? You won’t be able to go to college—you are an immigrant,” she recounted last year. “But I felt in my heart that I could not give up.” (Watch a digital story about Yazmin’s immigration experience.)

Last year she graduated from Guilford College, where she double majored in French and business management and served as a campus leader. She interned with AFSC and lobbied for immigration-policy reform, working to strengthen and protect education opportunities for immigrants.

Until her deferred action approval came through, Yazmin was doing all of this without knowing what it would mean for her. She says that getting her work authorization “has changed things for me drastically. If it wasn’t for this, I would not have the opportunity to work ... at this level.”

For Yazmin, Roberto, Ivania, and thousands of young dreamers, the deferred action policy is opportunity knocking. But lingering questions about what happens after two years—when they’ll no longer be exempt from deportation—signal that the debate on true reform to immigration policy is just taking off.

*Roberto is a pseudonym.