On Friday, President Barack Obama took perhaps one of the most important stands of his political career, making a formal announcement that he would pursue a policy change that discourages the deportation of the children of illegal immigrants and would provide work permits to as many as 800,000 young people — a good number of whom are students.
While the range of opinions with regards to immigration and immigration reform in the United States is vast, it cannot be denied that for more than a century, the U.S. has shone brightly as a beacon of hope for a better life to many. America has always been known as the land of opportunity, and hence it attracts individuals from many different countries, continents, and ways of life — all hoping to get their own slice of the American pie, whether to improve their own lives or that of their families.
So in a sense, Obama’s support of such an endeavor pays tribute to the United States’ long-lasting tradition of opening its arms to those who want a better chance. Arguably, the path to citizenship in America should be more streamlined and efficient, and setting up illegal immigrants with the opportunity to earn their citizenship through work is a useful solution to the so-called “immigrant problem.” At the very least, it’s certainly a much more productive and perhaps more cost-effective proposal than, say, building a wall at the southern border to bar a good portion of illegal immigrants.
But more importantly, Obama’s policy is closely in line with the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, proposed in Aug. 2001 by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Dick Durbin. The DREAM Act aimed to provide “conditional permanent residency” to certain illegal immigrants who demonstrated a good moral character and had either attended high school in the U.S. or arrived in America as a minor. Young immigrants were thus able to pursue a path toward permanent citizenship through this program, especially if they endeavored to go on to college or enlist in the American military.
While the DREAM Act has been brought up and presented to Congress for several years, it has never quite made it out. Many Americans feel as though the DREAM Act aims to act as a handout or a welfare crutch instead of a stepping stone for young immigrants, citing such things as the fact that the DREAM Act does allow some illegal immigrants who are in college to be eligible for in-state tuition. This hits home especially in the state of Texas, where the DREAM Act has consistently been a debated issue. While it’s unfairly attributed that Latinos would be the sole beneficiaries of the DREAM Act — indeed, it applies to illegal immigrants from all walks of life — a majority of the Act’s advocates are Latinos. And many college students across the country who identify as Latino are strong supporters of the Act, likely because it would be something that could help them, too, or someone they know, formally become American citizens.
As Obama stated during Friday’s announcement, “(These) young people pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way — but on paper.”
It could be argued that Obama’s stance on this issue is a little convenient given that this is an election year. The youth vote was vital for Obama in the 2008 presidential election, and by taking a stand on behalf of young illegal immigrants seeking to rebuild their lives in America, it’s likely that Obama will gain much support from the Latino population and young liberals this November as well.
It’s more likely, however, that this is Obama saying more or less that the “sins of the father” shouldn’t fall upon the children, and that they should be given a fair chance to become formal American citizens. If young illegal immigrants are willing to work to become citizens, the land of opportunity should allow them that opportunity.
Bradford Howard is a creative writing senior and may be reached at email@example.com.