After years of crushing disappointment, young people born elsewhere but raised in this country without benefit of proper documentation have an opportunity to relieve the anxiety and desperation that comes with living with the perpetual fear of deportation. A change in immigration policy that went into effect last week offers them a two-year reprieve from summary expulsion.
The decision will provide temporary work permits for undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before the age of 16 if they have graduated from high school, served in the military or earned a G.E.D.; have no felony convictions; and have lived in the United States for at least five years.
The initiative amounts to a measure of progress in their efforts to gain a legal foothold in this country. As such, it is a welcome and long-sought step forward, the first sign of rationality in what up to now has been an illogical and morally reprehensible process designed to punish individuals for the actions of their parents.
The change comes after years of relentless prodding by immigration advocacy groups that would not let the nation’s chief executive evade all responsibility for inaction on immigration reform. Congress is the principal culprit in the paralysis over comprehensive reform, but President Obama had to be convinced — or pressured — to make a decision that all along was well within his purview.
Despite claims to the contrary by critics, the president did not unilaterally enact the Dream Act with a stroke of his pen. In fact, the change in policy does not even amount to an executive order, and it stops far short of providing a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants brought to this country as minors by their parents. It doesn’t offer the coveted “green card” or federal financial aid for education, but rather provides an avenue of redress for people who have been treated unfairly.
The eagerness with which they have embraced this program is a measure of their desire to play by the rules, as evidenced by the long lines at immigration processing centers around the country, including in Miami.
Nationwide, some 1.76 million young people could be potentially eligible for the program, known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). In Florida alone, some 140,000 of them may be eligible, with South Florida being home to the biggest portion.
There is still much left to do to achieve the maximum benefit from this initiative.
At the federal level, the government must reassure applicants that no information they supply will be used for immigration enforcement purposes against their families. Similarly, employers would welcome a specific policy statement by Homeland Security that any information supplied by an applicant will not trigger an employer sanctions investigation.
Unfortunately, Florida is not one of the 13 states that grant in-state tuition regardless of immigration status — but it should be. The state should be first in line to promote the desire of all students to improve their education. The federal recognition of temporary residency — renewable after two years — should prompt the Legislature to offer these students in-state tuition.
And now that they’re here, it makes no sense for the state to keep denying these newly authorized residents a driver’s permit that would remain in force as long as they comply with the law. Treating them as undesirables after they have acquired legal status would continue to punish young people who don’t deserve it.