Risking arrest, a group of DREAM eligible youth staged a protest in an Obama for America campaign office in Denver, Colorado on Tuesday. Their demand: the President should use his executive authority to stop the deportations of young people who were brought to this country as young children and who would be eligible for relief if the DREAM Act passed. If that bill were passed, it would provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who complete college or military service.
This action by the DREAMers in Colorado was not surprising to immigration politics observers. Earlier in the week the National Immigrant Youth Alliance sent out a statement demanding an executive order to halt the deportations of DREAM Act eligible youth. In that statement, the NIYA expressed disappointment that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had disregarded prosecutorial discretion guidelines that were supposed to prevent young people who were DREAM eligible from being removed. Furthermore, the youth led organization issued a firm warning to the administration:
“We hope that our call for an executive order has not fallen on deaf ears in the White House. If the Administration does not issue an executive order, we will be forced to respond with direct action in the coming days. The administration, by not taking action by means fully within its power, keeps our lives on hold. That position, for us, is no longer acceptable.”
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo that provided ICE agents with guidelines in exercising prosecutorial discretion. The intention was for ICE to use its resources in removing undocumented folks who posed a risk to the country and to better prioritize the agency’s resources. Many activists were hoping that since President Obama signaled that he supports the DREAM Act and since many DREAMers are law abiding aside from their immigration status, this memo would provide some relief for the young people.
But the deportations continued.
Politic365 was able to connect with some DREAMers about what is happening with prosecutorial discretion. Isabel Castillo of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance explained, “Currently in Virginia, we are working on a case where an individual was put in deportation proceedings for picking up firewood, a forest ranger saw him and took him to ICE. According to the Morton Memo this is a low priority case, Cesar has a US Citizen sister and his mother is a legal permanent resident. Where is the discretion they talk about? You can read more about his case here.”
For well over a year, activists and immigration attorneys have been urging President Obama to use his executive authority to provide relief to DREAM eligible youth. And it’s been documented that the President does have this authority as other Republican and Democratic Presidents in recent history have used it. Should President Obama use his executive authority to provide some relief to DREAMers, this could signal to Latino voters and the immigrant community more broadly that the President still has some “skin in the game” because the DREAM Act failed in 2010 and since he couldn’t deliver on his campaign promise of immigration reform. In fact, the Obama administration has set records for deportations, and over three quarters of Latinos disapprove of how the President has handled the immigration issue.
“I feel like President Obama is taking the Latina/o vote for granted,” Neidi Dominguez, a member of DREAM Team Los Angeles, told Politic365 . “He is actively choosing to not take action and use executive authority to protect undocumented youth, like myself, who know this country as home.”
“There is no legal reason why President Obama has not granted categorical administrative relief to undocumented youth, so it’s clear that his inactivity is fueled by his fear of losing votes and being critiqued by the conservative right wing for granting relief to this group of young people,” added Dominguez.
Should the deportations of young people continue the Obama campaign could have a serious problem on its hands. It’s the President saying he would like to see DREAMers become productive members of our society, yet the actions of ICE agents and others tell another story. With DREAMers spread out across the country ready to take action, Obama for America offices could become the targets of more sit-ins and protests.