Cynicism at Obama's election-year move aside, what gives me hope for real reform is the energy of the migrant rights campaign
Myisha Areloano, Adrian James, Jahel Campos, David Vuenrostro and Antonio Cabrera camp outside of the Obama campaign headquarters in Culver City, California to protest of the administration's immigration policies: on Friday 15 June, the president announced a change of policy. Photograph: Grant Hindsley/AP
In a major announcement Friday 15 June, the Obama administration declared it will stop deporting eligible undocumented youth and grant them work permits. I was immediately elated to hear the news that could change the lives of family members, friends, and thousands of young people who face the threat of deportation every day. Yet, as the initial shock wears off, I can't ignore a rising sense of skepticism in response to the president's nakedly political move in an election year. Nor can I ignore his record so far.
While the policy change announced Friday raises several questions, what remains unequivocally clear is that the undocumented youth movement is making history in the United States. The president is responding to increased pressure from bold and courageous acts of the youth-led organizations the National Immigrant Youth Alliance andUnited We Dream, which, just this week, held sit-ins in five of the president's campaign offices and declared to the world on the cover ofTime magazine's global and domestic editions that they are undocumented Americans.
This new announcement outlines the Department of Homeland Security's discretion to consider a number of criteria in granting youth relief from deportation. They include: arriving to the United States under the age of 16; continuously residing in the United States for at least five years preceding the date of the memorandum; graduating from high school or being a discharged veteran; and having no criminal record. Notably, requests for relief pursuant to the memorandum are decided on a case by case basis, and there is no assurance that relief will be granted in all eligible cases.
While this is a major development, the president has a complicated record with the immigrant and Latino community. During his administration, deportations have risen to a record 400,000 individuals a year, through the unparalleled expansion of immigration enforcement measures. The administration also has a record of making grand announcements about providing relief based on discretionary process. So far, these have amounted to no more than recycled memos and broken promises.
Still, I am hopeful. Not because of President Obama's new leadership – immigration continues to be a political football – but because we've entered a new phase for the migrant rights movement where directly impacted people represent themselves and their movement. The undocumented youth who are leading the charge are not governed by intermediaries or by blind loyalty to any one political party. They will undoubtedly hold the president accountable if this policy change fails to meet its promise.
I am also hopeful because I've seen how their courage has inspired communities across the nation, young people but also adults – mothers and fathers who have witnessed their bravery and who are closer to coming out as undocumented Americans and undocumented families. Today brings us closer to that reality. When the federal government recognizes the deportations of young people as destructive, the logical series of questions are: why would we deport their parents? Why would we want children to become orphaned? How does that make sense?
Of course, it doesn't. This Father's Day weekend, I will honor my own father, who was deported and died in Mexico the year I graduated college. I will be reminded of the 62,000 other United States citizens who have also lost a parent to deportation under this administration. A part of me will join in the celebration today, but another part will mourn the human cost of an immigration system that still keeps children and parents apart this weekend.