Educators visit legislators in Washington to call for a “Dream Act Now”
From left: José Enriquez, Executive Director of Latinos in Action; Carlos Guevara, UnidosUS Senior Policy Advisor; Marisol Rerucha, Career Technical Education Specialist at the San Diego County Office of Education; Alex Hernandez, Principal of The Multicultural High School.
By John Marth, Senior Content Specialist, UnidosUS
We all have our favorite symbols that remind us of what America’s all about. The Declaration of Independence, the flag, or even Monday Night Football. But when the end of DACA was announced three months ago, Marisol Rerucha looked at Lady Liberty.
She thought of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty’s base, and how ending DACA violated it. “The great promise of our country, to be a refuge for those in need, was being spitefully revoked and would have a tremendous impact on hundreds of thousands of children,” Rerucha recalls thinking.
Rerucha copied down the poem and had it in mind as she visited Capitol Hill earlier this month to urge representatives to pass a DREAM Act by the end of the year. She visited offices with Alex Hernandez, Principal of The Multicultural High School in Brooklyn, New York, and José Enriquez, Executive Director of Latinos in Action in Utah. Rerucha is Career Technical Education Specialist at the San Diego County Office of Education.
All three are alumni of UnidosUS’s National Institute for Latino School Leaders, or NILSL, a fellowship that gives educators the skills and support they need to become advocates for Latino students in local and state politics.
Last Friday night, while most Americans were busy beginning their weekend, the House of Representatives was busy at work debating a supplemental appropriations bill to address the humanitarian border crisis at our border, and a bill to end the hugely successful DACA program that has helped more than 500,000 DREAMers. While the vote had no hope of becoming law (the Senate had already adjourned the day before and the president indicated he’d veto it), the debate on the vote displayed some of the most vehement anti-immigrant rhetoric we’ve seen to date.
In a statement, NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía condemned the House for it’s actions.
From the statement:
“It was an embarrassing and shameful display by people who are refusing to do their job and help the country. The House Republican Caucus today voted to send a message to the president and their constituents, but they also sent a message to America that we hear loud and clear: House Republicans are not interested in solving the immigration crisis and boosting the economy, they do not care about the plight of children and they do not want the Latino vote. That is the only conclusion we can make after Speaker John Boehner once again ceded control of this issue to the most extreme of the extremists in his party and passed legislation that cements the House’s obvious goal of making things much worse for everyone. It is appalling that this legislation only passed when the extremists decided it inflicted enough damage on immigrants and others in our community,”
“As I said last week at the 2014 NCLR Annual Conference, what Speaker Boehner has done, or more accurately has not done, on immigration is a clear dereliction of duty. He had numerous options, and he opted for the worst one: cowering and kowtowing once again to Steve King, Michele Bachmann and their allies in the hate-fueled anti-immigrant movement. John Boehner’s continued lack of courage will not only be his legacy as an ineffectual Speaker of the House but also harm the country he purports to love,” Murguía continued.
“And what the extremists have done with their power is unconscionable. Taking advantage of this situation to both block comprehensive immigration reform and undo programs that have nothing to do with what is happening at the border is just one more reason why the political future of the Republican Party in today’s America is decidedly bleak. I want to reiterate that fear-mongering and scapegoating isn’t going to get the Latino vote. Putting National Guard troops to confront children seeking refuge and enabling armed militiamen at the border isn’t going to get our vote. Repealing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and refusing to act on comprehensive immigration reform isn’t going to get our vote.”
“Given the extremists in charge in the House, the willful neglect of the House leadership and the failure to even consider constructive solutions, President Obama is right to act and fix as much of our broken immigration system as he can through executive action.”
House members in favor of immigration reform did try to insert an amendment that would have brought HR 15, the House bill on immigration reform, up for a debate, but their efforts ultimately proved unfruitful.
On July 15, 2012, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an initiative that grants temporary relief from deportation to certain undocumented youth. In the two years since the president’s announcement, more than half a million DACA applications have been approved, allowing many undocumented young people to pursue their ambitions free from fear of being deported. These youth have used their new status to enroll in higher education, pursue work opportunities, and gain access to banking services and other essential resources. As the time draws near for the first DACA recipients to renew their status for another two years, we look back on how DACA has benefitted our communities.
As of March 2014, the DACA program, administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has received nearly 675,000 applications. Of those who have applied, more than 640,000 DREAMers have been granted deferred action. This vast effort would have been impossible without the assistance of community organizations across the country, including NCLR Affiliates who have been helping since day one to guide and support community members through the application process.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) went to the Senate floor yesterday to deliver remarks observing the anniversary. Watch the clip below:
What lessons can we draw from the first two years of the DACA process? DACA recipients have benefitted immeasurably from gaining access to opportunities previously denied to them because of their immigration status. These new opportunities have also helped DREAMers contribute to the economy. Our friends at the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) surveyed DACA grantees and found that recipients were able to utilize resources, such as banking and financial services, that had previously been beyond their grasp.
59 percent were able to get a new job, with 45 percent seeing increased earnings
49 percent opened their first bank account, and 33 percent their first credit card
57 percent secured a driver’s license
NCLR’s own Gaby Gomez, an intern with our Communications team and a senior at the University of Maryland, can attest to the importance of DACA for her academic pursuits and career explorations:
“DACA, though a temporary measure, paved the way for me to seize new academic and career opportunities that once felt out of reach. DACA made it possible for me to spend last summer working on social justice issues impacting the Latino community. This work motivated me to approach my studies with renewed interest and with an impetus to steer them in the direction of public service and advocacy. I am a proud recipient of DACA.”
As Gaby notes, DACA only provides relief for two years and does not grant individuals permanent lawful status. This is why it’s so important that DACA recipients request renewal with USCIS four or five months before their DACA status expires.
If you were one of the first people to receive DACA in September or October of 2012, now is the time to submit your request for renewal! If you have not yet applied for DACA, or if you were previously too young to apply, you may now be eligible.
Whether you are applying for the first time or applying for renewal, be sure to check out NCLR’s recently released fact sheet on DACA renewals and first-time DACA applications, available here.