Local immigrants speak out about the need for reform, Part II

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Connecticut - posted Thu., Dec. 26, 2013
In Philadelphia recently, supporters of immigration reform rallied at Independence Hall. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Windham resident Pablo came from Mexico in 2001. He calls himself a “dreamer,” referring to the DREAM Act, first proposed in 2001. If passed, the most recent version of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act would provide a means for students and other young people who are undocumented and who have graduated high school or obtained a GED to obtain legal status in the U.S. The DREAM Act applies to persons who came to the United States as undocumented immigrant children and who have since grown up here.

“My people are scared to come out of the shadows, and frankly, I’m tired of that,” said Pablo. “As a youngster, I want to see my fellow brothers and sisters happy and not being in fear of the possibility of being deported or persecuted. I am a young man and a dreamer, and I want to be the voice of those who are scared to speak up.”

An estimated 65,000 students who graduate from high school each year would qualify for the DREAM Act’s benefits. But numerous efforts over the years to approve the legislation have failed. While Congress debates issues regarding immigration reform, the Department of Homeland Security has implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program, effective Aug. 15, 2012. The program allows certain young individuals who came to the U.S. as children, without documentation or who have overstayed their valid documentation, an opportunity to request work authorization and to defer their removal from the country for a period of two years. As of July 2013, the program had received more than 537,000 applications, approved more than 400,000 applications and denied more than 5,300. 

The DACA Program mirrors many of the requirements first proposed by the DREAM Act of 2001. To be eligible, an applicant must have entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and must have lived here continuously. Program participants must be currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, a GED certificate, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S. Participants cannot have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors, and cannot pose any threat to national security or public safety.

Opponents of the DREAM Act claim that the legislation will encourage illegal immigration, and will prevent U.S. citizens from obtaining spots in college programs. But proponents say that the act will contribute to the country’s well-being in a number of ways. By allowing immigrants to apply for temporary (and potentially permanent) legal status if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military, goes the argument, the Act will boost the economy and security of the nation. The Act would expand the recruiting pool of the U.S. military, “to the advantage of military recruiting and readiness,” according to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Proponents also say that the Act would enhance efforts to boost the number of college graduates produced by the U.S. And in 2010, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office claimed that the DREAM Act would cut the deficit by $1.4 billion and increase government revenues by $2.3 billion over 10 years. The Act would also, according to former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, allow immigration and border experts to focus upon those who pose a serious threat to national security, rather than upon innocent children brought into the country at a young age.

Provisions of the DREAM Act have been incorporated in several different versions of attempts at comprehensive immigration reform. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed through Senate, but went no further. In 2011, another attempt became stuck in committee review. In 2013, the Border, Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744), which incorporated provisions of the DREAM Act of 2013, also fell short of gaining approval. Written by a bipartisan group of eight senators known as the “Gang of Eight,” the bill addresses all aspects of the immigration process from border and enforcement issues to legal immigration reforms.

One of the primary purposes of the bill is to provide a path to Lawful Permanent Residence (a “green card”) for the existing undocumented population via the new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) program. The bill would allocate billions of dollars for militarization of the southern border and restructure the family immigration system. The bill would also create stringent enforcement and deportation measures, and it would ramp up workplace enforcement by mandating that employers use an electronic employment eligibility verification system (E-Verify).

For more regarding recent efforts at comprehensive U.S. immigration reform as well as more feedback from Connecticut residents, see Part III of this article in next week’s edition of the ReminderNews.

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