By Ramon Garibaldo-Valdez
On the morning June 15, a mixture of joy and expectation filled the Hispanic community of North Carolina. The good news spread quickly through word-of-mouth and social networks: Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that certain types of “low-priority” undocumented immigrants would be able to apply for deferred action, a method of prosecutorial discretion that would make those eligible exempt from deportation and able to apply for a temporary work permit.
Those who watched the speech that President Obama made later that day realized that for the first time since 1986 the federal government was making a clear change in immigration policy – a change that would help undocumented students live without the fear of being deported and open the doors to the workforce for thousands of undocumented college graduates.
In the midst of the excitement and as newscasts spelled the requirements necessary to apply for deferred action, hope faded for a large number of students. These were students who had been here for less than five years before the new policy was announced. These were students who had dropped out of high school after losing all their hopes of entering college. These were students who for one reason or another, could not apply for deferred action.
It is true that deferred action is a blessing for undocumented students in times like these, when it seems that Congress has turned its back upon them. However, the light shed by the new immigration policy should not blind us from the realities of those people who will not be able to apply for deferred action.
The fear of many people who fight for immigrants’ rights is that once deferred action is given to enough students, the strong activism that has characterized the undocumented community will stop. If we let that happen, deferred action would have served to weaken the immigrant community rather than to strengthen it
What about those who do not qualify for deferred action? We have to keep fighting for them until a real immigration reform is reached. In fact, it is necessary to keep fighting even for those who qualify for deferred action because, as it has been repeatedly mentioned in the media, deferred action is a policy subject to changes in the Executive branch of the federal government. It is necessary to remind ourselves of the fact that deferred action is nothing but a temporary solution – a policy that will simply reduce the consequences of a broken immigration system without actually fixing it.
Furthermore, we have to ask ourselves, what was it that brought forth the sudden change in migratory policy? The answer can be found in the hundreds of demonstrations organized by DREAMers around the country to ask for a better treatment of their rights. Deferred action was not simply granted by the government; it was earned by thousands of students who left their comfort zones and made their voices heard.
Now more than ever, we cannot rest on our laurels. Instead of conforming ourselves with the temporary relief of deferred action, we have to learn from the students who fought for this policy and keep asking for a real change. Only by coming out of our comfort zones will we achieve a real, comprehensive change in the immigration system.
We have already won a battle. Now let’s go win the war.