By: Carolyn Cowen Nissen, ERC Intern
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”
These words have been uttered by millions, from young students to elected officials. Finally, the young immigrants who have been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance for years will be recognized as equal to their classmates. Hundreds of thousands of children have come to the United States with their parents and lived their entire lives here, educated in American schools and often unaware that they pledge allegiance to a country that does not grant them legal status. Finally, the Obama Administration has taken steps to stave off the deportation of these young, talented individuals who contribute so much to our society.
Last Friday, President Obama signed an Executive Order making certain young, undocumented students safe from deportation and granting them work authorization. Eligible immigrants include those who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, have resided in the U.S. for at least five continuous years, are currently 30 years of age or younger, have no criminal history, and are currently in school, a high school graduate, or were honorably discharged from the military. These individuals, as well as other immigrant minors, would have been afforded similar opportunities under the proposed DREAM Act, popular, common-sense immigration reform that Congress failed to pass earlier this year.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the Executive Order has the potential to assist as many as 1.4 million young people who immigrated to the U.S. as children, have gone through our school system, and have faced deportation because they are undocumented. Though this policy does not help all of the immigrant youth who would have been eligible under the DREAM Act, it is a landmark step for immigration reform. It will prevent the devastating deportation of hundreds of thousands of talented individuals who happen to be undocumented, but are in every possible way American.
In addition to preventing deportations, this policy also has the potential to reform immigration policies. Much work remains to be done in renovating our immigration system, and this action from the Administration will hopefully help push the DREAM Act and other reformative legislation through Congress to ultimately be signed into law. While to some it may seem just a small step, the effect it will have on hundreds of thousands of young immigrants and their families, as well as the future of immigration in the U.S., is far beyond that. President Obama said it best during his announcement last week: “Above all, it is the right thing to do, period.”