Path to second-class citizenshipBottom Highlights, Politically Aware Thursday, June 28th, 2012
Commentary: Politically Aware
“I’ll take it.” That was the response of an undocumented friend to Sen. Marco Rubio’s version of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. Rubio’s legislation was not fully formed, but appeared to include protection against deportation for children brought to America by their parents, but without a path to citizenship.
Rubio’s plan was pre-empted earlier this month by President Obama’s decision to offer work permits to 16-30 year-old undocumented immigrants who arrived in America through no fault of their own and met certain criteria, including a high school degree and a clean record. Given congressional inaction on the DREAM Act, the president and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano enacted this policy through “prosecutorial discretion”, declining to charge and deport “Dreamers.” Like Rubio’s plan, Obama’s directive can’t offer a path to citizenship, but does provide an official work permit.
Why would my friend agree to such a plan; in effect, signing up to be a second-class citizen? Mostly, it’s about neck pain; the kind that comes from having to watch your back every minute of every day. As much as he’d rather make official what he already believes, that he is an American, he’s sick of craning his neck to see who might bring up his status.
It’s not an illegal act he’s most worried about. He’s too careful. The larger danger is that his successful and hard work would be rewarded with a promotion that would require international meetings that would require a U.S. passport; at least for the return trip. Or perhaps, a competitor for that promotion would discover his status and choose to bring it up. Under current law, he could be deported in either circumstance for simply succeeding in the American dream.
So he’ll take the Obama administration’s new plan as surely as he would have taken Sen. Rubio’s. But he, like most, is waiting for the details, because there is plenty of danger in the president’s plan.
The “work permits” will almost certainly come at the price of identifying him to the Department of Homeland Security. Add to that, letting his bosses know that he lied about his status to get a job in the first place. For some, that may be a de facto admission to using a fraudulent ID. Those are risky confessions just to get a two-year work permit that will probably be held up by a lawsuit against the policy.
If he gets the permit and keeps his job, what happens next year if the president loses? Is the permit good for two years, or can a President Romney invalidate it and have Sheriff Arpaio knock on his door? Even if they have to wait the full two years, no doubt the tough-on-immigration crowd will thank President Obama for making their deportation list.
And if President Obama is re-elected, what happens in 2014? Can he reapply? When he turns 30, does he get to finish off that 2-year permit, or does he open his birthday presents in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center?
I can’t blame my friend or any other undocumented person for jumping at the opportunity to stop looking over his or her shoulder, but people who have had a taste of second-class citizenship, like the LGBT community, should help them demand more. The Dreamers have committed no crime, worked hard, paid taxes and contributed to society. They shouldn’t have to check-in every so often like citizenship parolees. While the president’s policy takes some pressure off them, we need to keep the pressure on Congress to recognize them, permanently, as the Americans they already are.
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