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The Next America - Immigration 2012 / POLITICS

Start of DREAM Act-Like Program Sparks Congressional Divide

August 16, 2012

When she first heard the news that she could soon apply for a work permit, undocumented college student Hareth Andrade was hardly excited - she was skeptical.

"We had so many questions, and we didn't know if this would actually come true for us. We had this period of 60 days to wait," she said.

Her wait ended on Wednesday, when new guidelines took effect allowing about 800,000 eligible undocumented youth to apply for work permits and defer deportation. President Barack Obama and the Department of Homeland Security announced the policy change in June.

 

Now, Andrade -- who came to the United States from Bolivia when she was 8 -- is "overwhelmed" with excitement. But many of the members of Congress who bristled at the initial announcement have yet to warm to the policy.

The policy change, which is often referred to as "deferred action," accomplished a substantial portion of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, legislation that Republican opposition stalled in Congress. Several politicians had criticized Obama for bypassing the legislature with his announcement, including Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who said he would sue the administration to halt the policy's implementation.

The policy is similar to a more modest immigration proposal put forward by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would also grant residency to young immigrants brought to the United States by their parents. His spokesman pointed the Alley to the same statement Rubio released when Obama initially announced the policy, that it is "welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short-term answer to a long-term problem,"

"And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one," Rubio said in June.

Meanwhile, many Democratic supporters of the DREAM Act celebrated the policy change on Wednesday. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., joined hundreds of supporters at an event teaching youth about the eligibility rules. Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Joe Baca, D-Calif., tweeted links to more information for their constituents. And Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the administration in a statement on Wednesday, while also taking the time to commend congressional Democrats for passing the DREAM Act in 2010.

"Today, because of the strong action of President Obama, Secretary Napolitano, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is an extraordinarily hopeful day for more than a million young people raised and educated here in America but left in legal limbo through no fault of their own," she said.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who called on Obama to use his executive power to help undocumented students when the DREAM Act stalled in the Senate, released a similarly laudatory statement on Wednesday. He sneaked in a jab at the GOP, asking those like Rubio to support the administration, even in an election year.

"I hope Republicans, especially those who expressed willingness to help these young people, will support the administration's efforts to provide them with a reprieve while Congress works out a path forward," he said.

Until Congress works out that path, Andrade will work to ensure that other youth come forward to assess their eligibility for the DREAM program. Groups like United We Dream have provided access to attorneys working pro-bono so undocumented youth can determine how to sufficiently fulfill the policy's requirements.

Andrade brought five of her friends to a United We Dream event on Wednesday to fill out their applications together.

"It's something unreal," she said. "We were ashamed of being undocumented for so long, and coming out of the shadows is more than a paper or an application. It's family and friends and something psychological inside of us."

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