Opinion

Young Immigrants Are Watching and Waiting For Concrete Action

They’re also organized and numerous enough to make political demands.

Cristina Jimenez is Co-founder & Managing Director for United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation.
National Journal
Cristina Jimenez
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Cristina Jimenez
July 10, 2014, 1 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama’s an­nounce­ment last week that he will take ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion on im­mig­ra­tion was a pivotal mo­ment. While the Pres­id­ent needs to fol­low up the prom­ise of his words with con­crete ac­tions, the an­nounce­ment it­self was sig­ni­fic­ant. Des­pite con­gres­sion­al in­ac­tion, it was the sus­tained en­ergy and act­iv­ism of those who un­der­stand the im­pact of our in­hu­mane im­mig­ra­tion policies that led to the Pres­id­ent’s an­nounce­ment in the Rose Garden.

After months of wish­ful think­ing that the le­gis­lat­ive pro­cess was alive, all ob­serv­ers now agree that House Re­pub­lic­ans have no in­ten­tion of de­liv­er­ing on im­mig­ra­tion re­form. Re­lief for our fam­il­ies will have to come through ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion and not the halls of Con­gress.

Throughout 2014, United We Dream has been re­lent­less in dir­ect­ing pres­sure at the White House and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats, call­ing for sub­stan­tial ad­min­is­trat­ive re­lief. United We Dream’s We Can’t Wait cam­paign draws at­ten­tion to the most press­ing and most pain­ful is­sues fa­cing our com­munity: de­port­a­tions and fam­ily sep­ar­a­tion. While we have ac­know­ledged that House Re­pub­lic­ans were to blame for block­ing a per­man­ent le­gis­lat­ive fix, we ar­gued that Demo­crats and the Pres­id­ent needed to de­liv­er for our fam­il­ies re­gard­less, es­pe­cially in light of the re­cord-set­ting num­ber of de­port­a­tions that have taken place dur­ing Obama’s terms in of­fice. From tar­get­ing and con­vert­ing Sen­ate Demo­crats to join our cause to a sus­tained cam­paign of state-by-state or­gan­iz­ing and ac­tion, we have been fight­ing to make ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion on im­mig­ra­tion a real­ity.

United We Dream af­fil­i­ates or­gan­ized re­gistered voters to pass state Demo­crat­ic Party res­ol­u­tions in Flor­ida, North Car­o­lina, Wash­ing­ton State, and Texas call­ing on Pres­id­ent Obama to use his ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity on be­half of our fam­il­ies. Our 53 af­fil­i­ates in 26 states en­gaged dir­ectly with prom­in­ent Demo­crats and cheered when they joined our push for ex­ec­ut­ive re­lief.

We have also re­cog­nized that our com­munity’s an­ger and dis­il­lu­sion­ment at the im­mig­ra­tion status quo can be a power­ful prod. So, we’ve demon­strated our polit­ic­al power. Col­or­ado is a key 2014 polit­ic­al battle­ground state and the home to both the cur­rent chair of the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, Sen­at­or Mi­chael Ben­net, D-CO., and Sen­at­or Mark Ud­all, D-CO. Ud­all is run­ning for reelec­tion in a com­pet­it­ive race. As a res­ult, we made our pres­ence felt in the state, tak­ing dir­ect ac­tion to high­light dev­ast­at­ing stor­ies of fam­il­ies sep­ar­ated by de­port­a­tions and ur­ging both Sen­at­ors to call for ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion. Both Sen­at­ors agreed, with Sen. Ben­net’s spokes­per­son say­ing, “If the House con­tin­ues to drag its feet we en­cour­age the ad­min­is­tra­tion to pur­sue its ef­forts to pre­vent these in­no­cent fam­il­ies from be­ing ripped apart” and Sen­at­or Ud­all him­self stat­ing, “If Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress won’t act on be­half of Col­or­ado fam­il­ies and busi­nesses or the mil­lions of im­mig­rants liv­ing in the shad­ows, then the Pres­id­ent should take ac­tion to stop tear­ing apart fam­il­ies whose only crime is seek­ing a bet­ter life for them­selves.”

But des­pite op­tim­ism about the Rose Garden ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion an­nounce­ment and be­ing proud of our role in mak­ing ex­ec­ut­ive re­lief closer to a real­ity, our work is far from over. After all the prom­ises and rhet­or­ic in sup­port of im­mig­ra­tion re­form in re­cent years—only to be fol­lowed by ex­cuses and in­ac­tion—we are past the point of cel­eb­rat­ing mere words.

We need to see ac­tu­al sub­stant­ive steps for­ward that pro­tect im­mig­rant fam­il­ies. Just as the Pres­id­ent did with the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals (DACA) pro­gram, we ex­pect the Pres­id­ent to cre­ate a mech­an­ism for all in­di­vidu­als with fam­ily or com­munity ties to this coun­try to re­quest de­ferred ac­tion. Build­ing on the suc­cess of DACA, the Pres­id­ent must now in­clude the par­ents and fam­il­ies of Dream­ers, and make it easi­er for fam­il­ies torn apart by de­port­a­tion to re­unite. We ex­pect him to en­sure that all Dream­ers can be­ne­fit from the DACA pro­gram by ex­pand­ing eli­gib­il­ity by rais­ing age of entry re­quire­ment from 16 to 18, elim­in­at­ing the cur­rent age cap which leaves Dream­ers older than 30 in­eligible, and cre­at­ing a fee waiver that would make DACA at­tain­able to low-in­come Dream­ers. And we de­mand that he put a stop to the re­cord-set­ting de­port­a­tions chan­ging the lives of hard­work­ing mem­bers of our com­munity who have roots, fam­il­ies, busi­ness and homes in the United States.

United We Dream also strongly op­poses the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cruel ap­proach to the hu­man­it­ari­an crisis hap­pen­ing with un­ac­com­pan­ied Cent­ral Amer­ic­an chil­dren flee­ing vi­ol­ence. A po­ten­tial step for­ward for im­mig­rant fam­il­ies already es­tab­lished in the United States should not mean we de­port chil­dren at risk of phys­ic­al harm or even death. It is our mor­al ob­lig­a­tion as a na­tion to en­sure we pro­tect them from harm and treat them with the dig­nity they de­serve.

It is clear that Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans are not on the side of im­mig­rant fam­il­ies. They have at­temp­ted to de­fund DACA and ad­voc­ated for the mass de­port­a­tion of Dream­ers. The Pres­id­ent’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion an­nounce­ment was a re­buke that shows they over­played their hand. After Re­pub­lic­ans at­temp­ted to use the child mi­grant crisis to at­tack DACA and Dream­ers again and to bully the Pres­id­ent away from tak­ing broad ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion, Pres­id­ent Obama made his plans clear. The Pres­id­ent’s an­nounce­ment left Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans and their real goals ex­posed: block­ing im­mig­ra­tion re­form le­gis­la­tion and mass de­port­a­tion. The im­mig­rant com­munity won’t soon for­get who is on our side.

Two years ago, Pres­id­ent Obama held an­oth­er Rose Garden ce­re­mony to an­nounce DACA. Since then, more than 600,000 DACA re­cip­i­ents’ lives and fu­tures have been changed. We stand ready to once again force the Pres­id­ent’s hand so our fam­il­ies can ex­per­i­ence the same pro­tec­tions af­forded to young im­mig­rants.

Cristina Ji­me­nez is Co-founder & Man­aging Dir­ect­or for United We Dream, the largest im­mig­rant youth-led or­gan­iz­a­tion in the na­tion.

HAVE AN OPIN­ION ON POLICY AND CHAN­GING DEMO­GRAPH­ICS? The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic, and so­cial im­pacts of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion, par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant to edu­ca­tion, eco­nomy, the work­force and health. In­ter­ested in sub­mit­ting a piece? Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com with a brief pitch. Please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

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