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Relief for DREAMers or just another Bandaid? New policy leaves many questions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 15, 2012 - When news broke on Friday that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was basically removing the threat of deportation from young, undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, people got excited.

“It has been a busy morning around here,” said Vanessa Crawford Aragon, executive director with MIRA, Missouri Immigrants and Refuge Advocates. 

But the details of what Napolitano plans on doing, and how that will actually play out, are still unfolding.

“Personally, I’m a bit on edge about it,” said Yahaira Carrillo, founder and an organizer with the Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance

Carrillo, now 28, is undocumented and came to the U.S. in 1992, at 7, from Mexico. 

Napolitano’s announcement would offer deferred action (which amounts to no deportation but having to reapply every few years) to people who meet the following criteria:

  • Are between 15 and 30 and entered the country before 16
  • Have been present in the country for five years as of June 5, 2012
  • Are enrolled in high school, have a GED or graduated from high school
  • Have maintained continuous residence
  • Have a clean criminal record (meaning no convictions of one serious crime or a few smaller ones)

Here’s what the policy won’t do: Provide a path to citizenship.
Carrillo, who would meet the qualifications under the policy, wants to see how the policy itself is enacted. 

“There’s still a lot of gray area around it,” she says. “So I’m not quick to congratulate everyone.”

Last year, the Morton memo made clear that immigration officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, could use prosecutorial discretion, which essentially gives them the ability to decide what actions to take with undocumented people depending on a number of circumstances. They can choose deferred action in place of removal, or deportation, for instance. But the actual use of prosecutorial discretion hasn’t been as widespread as she’d hoped, Carrillo says. 

Prosecutorial discretion can work, and sometimes does, says Amany Ragab Hacking, an assistant professor at the law school at St. Louis University. But without any identifiable standard, people can pretty much do what they want. 

Over the next few days and weeks, Crawford says, it should become clearer how this new policy will play out. If it can help people, that’s huge, she says, and views it as more of a first step. 

In the long term, though, she’s still waiting for a real DREAM Act that offers young people, like Carrillo, a path to citizenship.

And Carrillo, at least, is going to wait and see what happens next before celebrating.

“It’s very much a Band-aid,” she said.

Like Crawford Aragon, Hacking does see some positives, however short term.

“They’re paying attention,” she said. “They’re paying attention to the DREAMers. They’re paying attention to young people. It shows that they want to do something.”

That something is not everything, but America’s young and undocumented aren’t going away, Hacking says, they’re protesting, stepping out and speaking out.

“How more American can they be?”