I am twenty-nine years old. I learned Spanish from traveling to Peru and Guatemala and living in a NJ city that is about a third Latino. I have friends from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic (happily citizens), and undocumented friends from El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador and Mexico. If the average person could have a conversation with any one of them, they would support immigration reform.
Our immigration system is an agonizing mess: workers often cannot fight against unpaid wages and other abuses; families are broken up, parents are deported and their children placed in foster care. An especially sympathetic group of undocumented people that has raised bi-partisan sympathy in the past is composed of young people who were brought to the United States as children. Some have spent the majority of their lives here and consider themselves Americans. Once they graduate high school, however, they cannot get loans to go to college, and they are unable to pursue professional careers without a social security number. They face the threat of deportation every day as they work, drive or attend school.
All of the GOP candidates except Newt Gingrich oppose the DREAM act. Despite his Spanish-language ad showing a Latina-looking girl graduating, frontrunner Mitt Romney promised to veto the DREAM act, saying he wants to “enforce immigration laws already on the books.”
Does Mitt Romney even know what those laws are? If those young people who would qualify for the path to legal residency under the DREAM act were to follow the “immigration laws already on the books,” they must go back to their home country for ten years (if they have been undocumented for more than 365 days) or three years (if they have been undocumented less than 365 days) thanks to the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). (There is, however, an exception to the 3 and 10 year bars for minors under the age of 18: they do not ‘accumulate unlawful presence’ until their 18th birthday. If they stay more than six months or one year and leave, they would then trigger the 3 and 10 year bars, respectively.)
Take the example of an undocumented, unmarried, Mexican young person who entered the U.S. without documentation and has been in the U.S. more than 365 days. (Approximately 58% of U.S. undocumented immigrants are from Mexico. Google “Jeffrey S. Passel New Patterns”). First, they must return to Mexico to apply for a family visa, if they qualify. It is quite unlikely in this situation that they would have a parent who is a citizen or a legal resident. If they do, they still must wait the ten years stipulated by IIRIRA. If the person is 21 or over, the wait time rises to 19-20 years.
Assuming the unmarried young person does not have a parent who is a U.S. citizen or legal resident— by far the most common scenario— the only other option is a sibling who is 21 or older and a U.S. citizen. They will wait (in Mexico) for this type of visa at least 16 years. The family visas are probably the only options for this individual; as a young person, it is unlikely that they will be applying for a skilled work visa. If a young person’s parents and siblings are undocumented, or his citizen siblings are not 21, there is no channel for him to apply for a visa. (Worsening the odds, an undocumented person’s citizen siblings are more likely to be younger; if a family immigrated to the U.S., their older child(ren) would be undocumented but the younger ones (born in the U.S.) would be citizens.) Every type of visa must be picked up in dangerous Cuidad Juarez.
What is the DREAM act?
To qualify for the DREAM act, an individual must “prove that they meet the age (currently 29 or under and arrived in the U.S. at 15 or under) and residency requirements (five years or more) and have done the following:”
- Obtained a GED or (American) high school diploma
- Been a person of “good moral character” and not have committed more than one felony or three misdemeanors as determined by Department of Homeland Security from the date of entry into the U.S.
If they fit this profile, they would be granted conditional non-immigrant status. No earlier than two years from that date, the individual could earn resident status if they did the following: been enrolled in good standing in a college/university pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher for at least two years or served in the U.S. military for at least two years; not have traveled out of the country more than 365 days while under conditional nonimmigrant status; paid back taxes; and “demonstrated the ability to read, write and speak English and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of government in the United States.”
DREAMers would not be granted in-state tuition. They would be excluded from the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and other entitlement programs; and if/when they obtained citizenship, their ability to sponsor a family member for immigration would be extremely restricted.
In short, this is NOT the comprehensive immigration policy that we need. This is merely an important stop-gap measure to lessen the harm being done to a generation of immigrant young people until the administration prioritizes reforming the system that creates 12 million second-class members of society, 2 million of whom may qualify under the DREAM act.
Melissa Manske is a nursing student and occasional substitute teacher. She researches immigration law and tries to bring awareness about it.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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