On June 15, 2012, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that undocumented people who came to the United States as children and who meet several key guidelines may apply for “deferred action”, which would mean they would not be deported for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and would be eligible for a work permit. In August, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting requests for consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals.
We Have Power, But We Must Exert it
This is a historic victory for the immigrant rights movement that stems from the power expressed by the massive immigrant rights demonstrations in 2006. It vindicates undocumented immigrants’ feelings and the truth that we must be treated equally regardless of what side of the border we were born on, that what should make you a citizen is being yourself — living, studying or working in and contributing to this country. The victory is a step in the direction toward reaffirming the United States’ commitment to equality for all.
Many have argued that this action is a cynical move by the Democrats to get the Latino vote. Many in the undocumented community, in particular the Latino/a community, say that it’s too little, too late. Everyone knows and feels that deferred action is inadequate, even the Democrats who have proposed the policy. The pro-Democratic newspapers, while hyping the policy with personal interest stories of this or that person who received a deferral, admit that it’s only two years deferral of deportation, not a pathway to citizenship. Those who have applied and gotten it, while understandably delighted, are also critical, saying that they are in “immigration purgatory” — that even if it gives a two year opportunity to get a job, it doesn’t solve the question of financial aid for public higher education and it isn’t the Dream Act.
Everything Depends on the Strength of the Immigrant Rights Movement
All of these criticisms are true, but it is also true that the situation is fluid, and that what this policy becomes depends entirely on what our movement does .
Everything depends on the movement.
The direction this reform goes in depends on the balance of power. If we can get hundreds of thousands of eligible young people to apply and obtain deferred action and get a work permit, we can make it very difficult for the authorities to yank these privileges in two years time.
The more we do, the more we can stretch the boundaries of this program, broaden it, and turn it into a more lasting and permanent pathway to citizenship.
Already some states have declared that they will give those who receive deferred action a social security number and a driver’s license. This is already a real expansion of the program and a very important gain, given that so many undocumented people are detained through traffic stops. In states that are not yet offering driver’s licenses to those who obtain deferred action, we can build mass demonstrations at Secretary of State and DMV offices, demanding the right of everyone with a work permit to have the legal right to drive to get to work.
In the state of California we are fighting to get the governor to sign a bill that is on his desk that will allow those who get deferral to get drivers licenses. We are close to victory.
In the past, every amnesty or semi-amnesty program had the potential to benefit millions, but ended up benefiting only a handful of people. This happened because the undocumented communities in their overwhelming majority felt that the amnesty programs were a trap — they felt that the government had all the power.
Overestimating the power of our enemies and belittling our power is our biggest problem.
It weakens what we can make of these programs, resulting in fewer people applying and reducing the degree to which we can shape what the program will and should be – a precursor to the Dream Act. The more we underestimate our ability to influence the direction of immigrant rights, the more we risk the program not just being the limited program it is, but becoming what it shouldn’t be; a way to deport our leaders, family and friends.
We need a large number of people applying for and being granted deferred action and fighting to broaden the character of what it is to make it a more lasting and permanent reform.
If a lot of people are granted deferred action, and are employed as a result, it will be politically and economically unviable for the government to refuse to renew the status in two years.
We must simultaneously continue the fight for the Federal Dream Act, demand in-state tuition for undocumented students and organize defense committees to get ICE out of our communities.
All of these actions together strengthen our ability to win full citizenship rights for all.
Officially there are 1.7 million people eligible for deferral and only a fraction of that (82,000) have applied and fraction (30) of that have obtained it as of today. We need a critical mass to apply and get it. Otherwise, the few who have gotten it stick out and are vulnerable. Our strategy is to organize youth and students to get deferral by popularizing it through press conferences, social media websites and mass militant action.
BAMN is the coalition to defend affirmative action, to defend immigrant rights and to fight for equality throughout the world, by any means necessary. We are an organization that has taken up the fight of undocumented immigrants to be treated equally. We are looking for student leaders. Students who join us in this fight will be making the most important and favorable decision in your lives. The question of immigrant rights is at the forefront of our nation and every nation in the world today.
If you are between the ages of 15 and 31 and are currently in school or have a high school diploma or GED and no criminal record and would like help filing out your deferred action application, call 855-832-2533. We strongly recommend getting help with the application because once submitted, it cannot be amended, and if rejected, there is no appeal.