Last Friday, President Obama put into effect an executive order that would give qualified undocumented immigrant youth the opportunity to apply for two-year work permits that could be renewed, temporarily eliminating the threat of deportation. The order, which bypasses Congress, only fulfills certain aspects of the DREAM Act, a stalled piece of legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students.
Nonetheless, Obama’s announcement was seen as a step forward by many immigrant advocates, as various ethnic and community publications reported on Friday and over the weekend.
The order does not apply to everyone. Long Island Wins lists five conditions for those applying for the deferments. Applicants must have:
- Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
- Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
- Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
- Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
- Are not above the age of thirty.
Long Island Wins has been featuring profiles of “DREAMers” on their site for the past six months, including Wendolyne Sabrozo and Joaquin Villalobos, qualified undocumented students who live in Nassau County. The publication’s online editor Ted Hesson asked them for their reaction to Obama’s announcement, which they provided in the video below:
Villalobos and Sabrozo were overwhelmed and confused when they first heard the news, they explained. They thanked Obama, as well as their fellow DREAMers who advocated for change.
“Thank you for supporting us,” Villalobos says in the video above.
“For standing with us,” added Sabrozo.
“Don’t give up on us, and we’ll do the same for the country that we call home,” Villalobos said.
“We’ll use this to contribute and give back to this country,” Sabrozo said. “We’re more than happy. Words cannot express what we feel.”
The award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas — a poster child for undocumented immigrants since he “came out” as undocumented in a New York Times essay — spoke to PBS’ NewsHour on Friday after Obama announced his decision. Vargas, who is Filipino, would not qualify, as he turned 31 four months ago.
The online Filipino-American magazine, The FilAm, shared the voice of another Filipino-American, whose mixed reaction and background reflects many of the undocumented teens who only know American life and culture. Aaron Enrick Gernarde, 18, was “exuberant at first and skeptical next” asking what happens after the two-year deferment — “And then what?”
Aaron and his family came to the country on tourist visas when he was 10. He studied at Flushing High School in Queens, played basketball in the park around his neighborhood and pledged allegiance to the American flag. He’s all-American but not on paper.
Aware of his family’s immigration status, he said he was afraid to go out of the house, even to go to school.
Many community leaders responded warmly to the news:
Immigrant rights organizer Christina Baal said President Obama should be applauded.
“This is really a happy day. We in the immigrants’ rights and labor community are celebrating the entry of talented and energetic youth into our workforce,” she said.
The National Federation of Filipino American Associations or NaFFAA commended journalist Jose Antonio Vargas for “taking great risks in calling attention to the plight of these young people.”
“As Vargas puts it, ‘They grew up here, they were educated here, and they have so much to give back to the country they call home,’” NaFFAA said in a statement.
The organization reiterated its call for Congress to pass the DREAM Act and “end the nightmare of a generation of young people who are Americans and deserve to have the basic rights that all Americans enjoy.”
Meanwhile, another Filipino-American publication, Asian Journal, explained how the executive order applies to their community, while mentioning two undocumented Filipino immigrants, Veronica, 18, and her brother Anthony (not their real names).
There are an estimated 500,000 undocumented Filipinos living in the US. Some Fil-Am organizations have said that number is generous, estimating the number of illegal Filipinos to be as many as a million. Many of these undocumented Filipinos came as young children.
Veronica and Anthony were brought into the US by their parents when they were still in elementary school. Their father came to the US on a work visa. However, after working for that company for several years, the work visa expired, leaving the family in legal limbo.
Veronica graduated from high school last year. She hopes to take Communication Arts in a California university and work someday as a graphic designer.
When Brazilian-native Conrado Santos, one of the leaders of the Student Immigrant Movement, saw the news on Facebook, he thought it was a “lie,” reported Brazilian Voice. The UMass Boston student attributed the change in policy to young people’s advocacy.
The Brazilian student did not hide his happiness and called Obama’s decision a “major step. No one believed that something good with immigration would happen this year. Achieving this was a good step, the result of hard work. I’m proud.”
Carolina Ledezma at El Diario/La Prensa collected the responses of the young people who listened to Obama’s announcement together at the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York in Queens on Friday.
“Feeling the support on the part of the president motivates you to keep going,” said SUNY student Francisco Curiel, 19. “We’re hoping that next year, there will be definitive immigration reform,” said the youth who, after being in the country for five years, could qualify for this legal benefit.
In the group, Pamela Narváez, 17, emphasized that this measure is the beginning of their future and that of many young people. “We now have the opportunity to prove that we want to better ourselves,” said the youth, who dreams about studying dentistry at New York University.
The publication added that Yelky Ramos, 20, who won the New York Immigration Coalition’s Dream Fellow Scholarship, celebrated the news, but with suspicion: “I don’t know if this is a strategy to win the Latino vote, but it’s a pleasant surprise.”
Reporter Justin Mitchell for Feet in 2 Worlds gathered responses from a group who watched the announcement at another immigrant advocacy group’s office.
At the midtown headquarters of the New York Immigration Coalition, a group of activists and undocumented youth watched as President Obama made his announcement on live television from the White House Rose Garden.
“It’s a day of victory. A day of big accomplishment, I think,” said Yohan Garcia, an undocumented student at Hunter College and a self-proclaimed ‘Dreamer.’ “A day where I can actually say that the American Dream, at least for me, has become a reality.”
However, there’s more work to be done, said the group’s executive director, Chung-Wha Hong.
“Ultimately, Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship, so that they can be fully integrated into our economy and into our community,” Hong said.
Finally, Azi Paybarah of Capital compiled a round-up of reactions from major politicians, including that of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who called the decision “long overdue, as are many common-sense reforms needed to center our immigration policy around our economic needs.”