Tag Archives: Dreamers

The American Dream May Be Quenched For All Immigrants By the 2021 Dreamers Act

The Dreamers Act is a bill passed in 2021 by the House of Representatives in a vote of 298-197.

“The bill would provide conditional permanent resident status for ten years to dreamers, deferred enforced departure (DED), temporary protected status (TPS), and children of non-immigrant visa holders who may age out of status,” says Brent Renison, an immigration attorney in Portland, Oregon. This means that the Bill not only gives dreamers the security of legal citizenship in the US, it also extends that courtesy to immigrants that have come here on employment-based visas such as the popular H1B visa.

“It has affected…employment categories, mostly, people born in India or China,” says Renison.

Over the past decade or so, a lot of families have moved here from India on TPS or temporary protected status-based visas. However, their priority dates for permanent residency have moved excruciatingly slowly. Parents who brought their kids when they were in elementary school, started aging out (above 21), and the kids were forced to either go back to India or apply for an F1 or student visa, which posed its own restrictions and challenges.

The 2021 Dreamers Act or HR6, helps such families that came here on H1B, LR, or E visa from the green card backlog and puts them on the path for citizenship. If a family comes into the States with a child that is 18 years or younger and applies for an LPR then, they are on the right track to gain the security of becoming a legal citizen. 

The HR6 dream and promise act provides a safety net for such families and gives them a direct path to citizenship. This is not only beneficial for individuals and families but will also have a positive impact on the economy says, Joseph Villela, director of policy and advocacy for CHIRLA: “Based on a survey, 78% of them indicated that they got their first job because of the change of status, 45% reported an increase in earnings.” 50% of the DACA beneficiaries who were surveyed also opened a bank account and 23% received their first credit card. This survey shows the various significantly positive effects change in status has on the American economy and boosting its GDP. 

While DACA provided temporary relief to a lot of young adults, the 2021 Dream and Promise Act is especially comforting to the millions of undocumented citizens who lost their status or risked it during the Trump administration. “This bill gives time,” says Patrice Lawrence, the Co-Director for the UndocuBlack Network. The bill provides the temporary security of time (three years) for TPS and DED holders, and for dreamers and undocumented citizens, to adjust their status. 

During this time of hoping and fighting for the rights of dreamers, undocumented citizens, TPS, and DED holders, it is important that the media focus on humanizing individual stories rather than confining people to survey numbers or certain categories. The speakers at the EMS briefing on April 9th all stated the importance of showing stories that humanize and show the realities of immigrants in the media whilst also understanding the positive contributions they make to American society.

Theresa Cardinal Brown, Bipartisan Policy Center’s Managing Director of Immigration and Cross-border Policy, stated that public opinion is especially important in local districts and states as Congress members will look specifically at those pollings. It is most effective to advocate for the rights of these individuals through constituent calls, local papers, hearsay, etc. in each district. It’s important to broaden advocacy to every state and location. 

José Alonso Munoz, the National Communications Manager for United We Dream highlighted the importance to recognise and separate the political aspect and from the humanity of people that are fighting for their rights every day. All the speakers agreed that humanizing individual stories and highlighting their realities as a media platform, actively participating, and standing up for such individuals, are both extremely effective ways in which public opinion matters and will always matter in this fight. 

“We need to overhaul the system” concludes  Joseph Villela, director of policy and advocacy for CHIRLA.

Helpful links:

CHIRLA 

https://www.chirla.org

United We dream

https://unitedwedream.org

UndocuBlack Network  

https://undocublack.org

Other helpful links: 

“House Passes American Dream and Promise Act, Providing Pathway to Citizenship for Children of H-1B Workers”- India West 

American Immigration Council: Dream Act Overview 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and an aspiring creative writer  


 

Census Poses No Risk to DACA Holders, Experts Say, Encouraging Participation

Featured Image provided under licensing with no changes made

Today we continue with our occasional series meant to answer the most frequently asked questions regarding the census. If you have a question or doubt about the census, please write to pilarmarrero700@gmail.com and we will consult the experts to get the answers. These questions were gathered through social media. 

Question: “I am a citizen and I live with my boyfriend, who has DACA. If the Supreme Court approves ending DACA, should I include my boyfriend’s information in the census count of my household? I am afraid including him may have negative consequences for him.”

The DACA program, a deferred-action decision allowing temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, was put in place by President Barack Obama in 2012. In 2017, the Trump administration announced it would phase out the program, alleging that it was illegal from the very beginning.

Several lawsuits argued that Trump´s planned termination of DACA violates federal law requiring certain procedures before major rules are changed, as well as equal protection and due process guarantees.

Federal courts issued nationwide injunctions blocking the administration´s plans to end DACA and forcing the continuation of program renewals. The Supreme Court took up the cases before lower courts had fully heard them, an unusual step. A hearing was held in November in front of the Supreme Court, which could issue its ruling at any time before June.

That means the final decision on DACA could come in the middle of census field operations, which start in remote areas of Alaska in January and continue through several phases up until the end of July. 

More than 700,000 people in the United States have active DACA permits, and they often live in mixed-status families with others who have a variety of immigration situations or are native-born citizens. People may fear that they are putting family members in some kind of danger by naming them in the household´s census response. 

But that is not so, said Daniel Sharp, legal director for the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles, a leading organization helping young immigrants with DACA become aware of their rights under terms of the policy. 

Sharp worries that DACA holders or their families won´t participate in the census due to the misconception that their name and other information could be disclosed to the Department of Homeland Security and used against them for potential immigration enforcement. 

“There´s a two-part answer to that question,” Sharp said. 

The first is that the Census Bureau has very strict laws about sharing personal information. “The confidential protection laws that apply to the census information are among the strongest that exist in our laws,” Sharp said. “The U.S. Census Bureau is prohibited from virtually all inter-agency information sharing.” 

That means the Census Bureau can´t disclose the person´s name, their immigration status or any other information. It can only share “aggregated data,” meaning  how many people are in a particular demographic group, for example, but cannot pass on any individual´s information to any other department of the government. “This is by law,” Sharp added. 

The second answer to that question is that adding the DACA holder to a particular household´s census answer does not give the government any additional information it does not already have due to the person´s having applied for DACA. 

“The federal government already has all this information,” the lawyer said. “Whatever risk of deportation the individual DACA holder has is independent of whether or not they participate in the census. They have given their information to the government when they applied and renewed their DACA. Even if they moved, the government could track their social security number and find where they work or live.” 

Furthermore, the information given to the government by DACA holders is protected under terms of the 2012 policy stipulating that the government may not use the information for immigration enforcement unless the person poses a national security risk. 

The issue itself is in litigation right now. The federal government is under a nationwide injunction to follow its original 2012 promise about not sharing or using DACA recipients’ private information for enforcement purposes against them or their family members unless certain circumstances exist, such as that the person poses a national security threat or has committed certain crimes.

Sharp says that adding DACA holders to the census responses in the household where they live is “desirable and encouraged. The information is safe, and it´s important to be counted.”

Sharp also recently emphasized that even in the case of an adverse Supreme Court decision on the DACA program, most of those affected would still have the right to defend themselves in court against a deportation order and are likely to be able to stay in the country for years, even in that worst-case scenario.

Activists and lawyers want to make sure that every DACA holder is counted in the census because even if they spend years battling to legalize their status in the long term, they have the right in the meantime to get the resources and services everyone else gets from the once-every-10-year population count. 

 

Undocumented, Unapologetic, Unafraid

I walked into the San Francisco Immigration Court for my initial deportation hearing right before Christmas 2011. The courtroom was packed with immigrants mostly from India and Mexico, awaiting their deportation to countries they had left behind years ago. One by one, they stepped up; someone entered a plea for asylum, someone asked for more time, and many others accepted their fate: imminent separation from their family members. When they came to my name on the docket, I took a seat next to my attorney, fully prepared to hear and battle the charges against me.

WESTWOOD, CA - MAY 18, 2010: Students and supporters including Andrea Ortega, right, Prerna Lal, center, and Mayra (would not give her last name), left, hold signs during a press conference calling for passage of the DREAM Act, on a corner outside of the Westwood Federal Building. The DREAM Act would assist illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16 years old, a path to citizenship and make it easier for them to receive college degrees. (Katie Falkenberg / For The Times)
WESTWOOD, CA – MAY 18, 2010: Students and supporters including Andrea Ortega, right, Prerna Lal, center, and Mayra (would not give her last name), left, hold signs during a press conference calling for passage of the DREAM Act, on a corner outside of the Westwood Federal Building. The DREAM Act would assist illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16 years old, a path to citizenship and make it easier for them to receive college degrees. (Katie Falkenberg / For The Times)

To the average desi, illegal immigration is a “Hispanic” problem. Indeed, from the rhetoric that swirls around this issue, one gets the sense that every undocumented immigrant has skulked across the Mexican border at night, desperate to milk the American welfare state and steal good old American jobs (an argument whose efficacy seems to be uncorrelated with its inconsistency!) But the undocumented have many stories to tell—of escaping persecution in their homeland, of arriving as employees and staying on past their visa expiry dates because of their ties to this country, of unscrupulous employers and terrible immigration attorneys mishandling their cases. Or, as in my case, arriving as a child and “aging out” before I could petition to change my status. And yes, Indians cross the border from Mexico too. After Latin Americans, Indians are the largest group of immigrants caught at the Southwest border. And we’ve been doing this since the late 1800s—entering the United States without inspection through Mexico and Canada.

The Notice to Appear (NTA) document read, “She entered the country around November 13, 1999 and was authorized to stay till November 10, 1999.”

The Honorable judge smiled. “Well, obviously that is wrong. Would you like to suggest a friendly amendment?”

The government lawyer shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m not clear. It says in my files that she entered at or around May 2000. Is that not true?”

The attorney assigned to represent me looked sideways at me with her eyebrow raised. I returned the raised eyebrow and shook my head.

“That’s not true,” she countered.

“In that case, I don’t know what the facts are,” the government attorney declared in apparent frustration.

I don’t blame him. A lot has happened in the past 13 years that his job as a prosecutor would never allow him to consider beyond arrival and departure dates.

From what I can recall, I was around 14 when my father decided to pack our belongings and move us to the San Francisco Bay Area all the way from the islands of Fiji. He said he was running away from years of ethnic violence against Indians in Fiji. The rest of us did not have his sense of urgency but he wanted out and it didn’t matter if anyone else understood. I’ve often wondered about his reasons but no longer think the question holds any relevance.

The 2010 March For America. Photo by Judy G. Rolfe
The 2010 March For America. Photo by Judy G. Rolfe

 

Cold dreary weather gave me a warm welcome to the United States. We came to live with one of my uncles in Hayward, CA. I was enrolled in a public high school and expected to pick up right where I had left off, as if nothing had changed. My grandmother—a U.S. citizen—filed papers for us and I was told not to worry about immigration matters. My older sister had been studying here on an F-1 student visa and there was no reason to believe that I couldn’t do the same upon graduation from high school, and then eventually adjust my status to a green-card holder.

In hindsight, South Asians would ask me why I wasn’t smart enough to just stay on a student visa. It’s actually illegal to attend a public high school in the United States on an F-1 visa without compensating the school, and I couldn’t afford that. Besides, I was a dependent on my father’s visa and attended high school legally. I ended up graduating near the top of my class with admission to attend several reputable schools but discovered that I was unable to accept any of the offers because the newly formed United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied my application for a student visa.

Apparently, the visa petition filed by my grandmother when I was brought here was evidence of immigrant intent. In order to be an F-1 international student, I had to prove ties to my former country. USCIS emphatically declared in their denial letter that I was unable to prove any ties to Fiji and that the visa petition filed for my parents by my grandmother meant that I intended to live here. The irony in all of this is that had they allowed me to study here in legal status, I would have probably left the country after college. However, because I started to accrue “unlawful presence” due to the visa rejection, leaving the country triggered a senseless 10-year ban. I became someone who could neither live here nor leave here. I became undocumented.

That is how a lot of South Asian immigrants live in America. We make up a significant  number of the undocumented immigrant population in the United States but we are also conditioned to stay silent and remain fearful about our status. For a long time, I lived in fear of my life. Afraid to go to hospital when I broke my hand, afraid to talk about the abuse I underwent at home, afraid to ask for help if I was involved in an accident, afraid to tell teachers and friends in college that I was undocumented and needed financial support, afraid to apply for jobs or seek scholarships out of fear that someone would find out and report me to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

My mother constantly told me not to worry about my immigration status. According to her, all I had to do was work hard and go to school, and things would eventually sort themselves out. With the little money she had saved up from cleaning hotel rooms and working a fast-food job, she bought a small cleaning business. She enrolled me in a local community college. The college was more than happy to take me even without the proper immigration paperwork.

I would go to school in the day and work for the cleaning business till the crack of dawn. I didn’t have work authorization. I was paying out of state tuition for school with no access to student loans. I could not drive so I would bike and take public transportation up to six hours daily to get to college. I had no identification besides a passport with a photo that no longer resembled me, so I could not travel. For a long time, I dealt with these barriers by compartmentalizing them and throwing myself into my studies.

I worked hard and somehow graduated from college and graduate school before I was 22.

By then, I had spent my entire adult life looking over my shoulder, waiting for the axe to come down on the life we were leading in this country. Fortunately, my parents finally became eligible for a green card and we went to a lawyer’s office to file for adjustment of status.

Protests in front of the White House
Protests in front of the White House

 

Then a new wrinkle appeared.

“What do you mean, she aged out?” my mom asked the lawyer, perplexed.

“She is too old now to qualify for a green card with you. You would need to file for her again separately, after getting your green card. She will have to wait in line again. Alternatively, there’s always the DREAM Act (a piece of proposed legislation that would give certain undocumented youth brought to the United States before the age of 16 a pathway to legal residency).”

“How many more years does she have to wait? She has already waited 8 years for her green card.”

“7-8 more years. There is no way to tell. Maybe she should consider getting married.”

“I keep telling her to find a boy,” my mother said, agreeing with the lawyer.

“She has plenty of time. Just make sure he is a U.S. citizen.”

It hurt. Up to that point in time, I had kept quiet about the fact that I was gay. I’m sure my parents knew but they refused to acknowledge it. Depressed, lonely, and frustrated with living multiple lies, I tried to kill myself on several occasions. When my mother and sister started to look for prospective husbands for me, I decided that the only way to put an end to it was to be as out as possible. The best way to protect myself was to break through the barrier of invisibility. And that was the first step to breaking my chains.

The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act is a proposal that was first introduced in the U.S. Senate on August 1, 2001. This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented youth of good moral character who graduated from U.S. high schools or gain a GED, arrived in the United States before the age of 16, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six year period.

The legislation went nowhere for several years and was later tied to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) as low-hanging fruit. With the failure of “comprehensive reform” legislation, Senator Dick Durbin (Ill.), the chief proponent of the DREAM Act in the Senate, made its passage a priority for his office.

In October 2007, after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act once yet again, I met other undocumented youth like me on an online portal, who were willing to do more than just sit around in fear and live in the shadows. There was Mohammad Abdollahi, brought here from Iran at the age of three, whose attorney had filed the wrong fee for his dad’s work visa and then failed to appeal the adverse decision, which made the entire family undocumented; Kemi Bello, brought here at the age of six from Nigeria by her mom because her severely handicapped sister could only get medical treatment in this country. I found and created family in these students. Little did I know that the family I was created through email, GChat, Facebook, and phone conversations would evolve into an entire network of fierce and envied immigrant rights activists in just a few short months.

With the little cash I had from doing odd jobs, I bought a web domain—DreamActivist.org—and started working on building a website to act as both a resource and action center for undocumented youth. The Internet allows users to be anonymous, so it was a safe way to gather and share our stories while protecting our identities, meet other undocumented youth in the same state and forge friendships as well as alliances. I traveled to dozens of states, teaching undocumented youth across the country how to use the web and social media to share their stories. Immigrant rights organizations started noticing our growing network and reached out to us to speak at events and conferences across the country. After all, we were building the very base that they purport to fight for and support with their money. Currently, we have more than 13,000 followers on Twitter, 80,000 on Facebook, and over 100,000 members on the mailing list and growing—a network that even multi-million dollar immigration reform campaigns have been unable to match.

With the support of an entire community behind me, I was no longer afraid to take on the system. So when the largest newspaper in the country, USA Today, decided to brand us as “illegal students,” I wasn’t going to allow them to get away with it. The label “illegal” has a way of dehumanizing the person involved, and from there it is a quick step to creating an unknown and amorphous bogey man who is responsible for all the ills befalling citizens.
I directed thousands of emails and calls to the newspaper asking them to change their discourse. A retraction was printed within days and the reporter quit her job a little later.

Inspired by the small campaign, Colorlines, a news site focusing on issues of racial justice, launched their “Drop the I-word” campaign, asking media professionals to stop using the word.

Through my work, I found other undocumented South Asian students in various parts of the country. One such student was Taha, who was brought here at the age of two and lived in New Jersey for 16 years. He was being deported back to Bangladesh in less than a week. But due to the shame and stigma of being undocumented, his family wanted no media exposure. We had to launch a behind-the-scenes campaign, urging his Senators to stop his impending deportation and directing a few thousand faxes to the Department of Homeland Security.

Senator Robert Menendez wrote to the Department of Homeland Security on Taha’s behalf, requesting that they defer action on Taha’s deportation because “our nation benefits more by his presence than by his absence.” Indeed, one recent UCLA study estimates that between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion in taxable income would be generated for the economy over a 40-year period by DREAM Act beneficiaries successfully obtaining resident status through the legislation.

A week later, at a June 2009 United We Dream governance convening, I learned that Taha and his family had been granted deferred action—a stay of removal that authorizes a person to live and work in the United States.
That amazing realization that we could now stop any deportation holds mostly true to this day.

Since then, immigrant rights organizers and attorneys across the country have banded together to halt deportations in similar cases. Every week, friends, families and organizers gather to fax, email, call, and arrange meetings with officials in the Obama Administration.

Some of this momentum has led to the formation of new organizations with numerous local alliances, such as the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) in Chicago. Undocumented students have started to realize that their growing numbers and visibility actually help their cause. Undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic is the new mantra of the movement.

As part of this movement we attend City Council hearings, organize educational workshops for community members, hold rallies, and lobby legislators to support the DREAM Act.

ucla_student_creditpaulinaclemente_copy

The more courageous ones partake in civil disobedience actions—from hunger strikes to shutting down streets to occupying Congressional offices to placing themselves in detention to gather evidence of ICE abuses against detainees.

Out in the open, nothing seems to be impossible. We have stopped hundreds of deportations. We have found ways to get undocumented youth employed by creating limited liability companies. We have created Undocuhealth.org to battle the shame, stigma, and stress of being an undocumented youth. And I have embarked in my own form of civil disobedience—placing myself in deportation proceedings while attending law school in the nation’s capital.

Given the current immigration court backlogs in San Francisco and the pending litigation with regards to my case, I probably won’t be scheduled for an individual deportation hearing till 2015. By that time, I should actually be able to get a green card through my mother. Till then, I am “an alien authorized to work” in the United States.

I did pay a heavy price. My mother was hospitalized upon hearing about my impending deportation and she is now suffering from depression. My father does not speak to me because I am openly gay. As a poster child for the DREAM Act, I have a tougher time gaining and keeping employment because people assume that my undocumented status means that I don’t have work authorization or clearance, which is a classic case of job discrimination.

I’m not writing this to garner widespread sympathy or empathy regarding my deportation. I am writing this story to ask everyone to live their lives as honestly and openly as possible because living in the shadows and hiding our problems doesn’t do anything for us as a community. My experience has clearly shown me that finding people in the same situation as me and working together to fight the system has been tremendously successful.

Some would deride my personal journey and battle as a sense of entitlement. Some would extoll the courage and conviction I have displayed in the face of adversity. I’d peg it down spending half my life figuring out how to keep my family together by making a broken immigration system work for us. I sometimes question whether the struggle has been worth it but my dream is to sit on the beaches of Fiji sipping coconut water with a green-card in my wallet.

Prerna Lal is a law student at The George Washington University Law School and the co-founder of DreamActivist.org. She can be reached at Prerna@dreamactivist.org