President Obama’s DREAM decision: Facts and fallacies

It’s the right thing to do. President Obama has made a bold and historic decision for his administration to use its legal authority to allow DREAMers–young new Americans who were brought into the country as kids—to apply to stay in the only home they’ve ever known, without fear of deportation. The new policy, announced on June 15, 2012,  will affect about 800,000 young Americans.


According to the Department of Homeland Security,  in order to be eligible for deferred action under the new policy, individuals must:

  1. Have come to the United States under the age of sixteen;
  2. Have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
  3. Currently be 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;
  4. 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;
  5. Not be above the age of thirty.

Individuals must also complete a background check and, for those individuals who make a request to USCIS and are not subject to a final order of removal, must be 15 years old or older.

Why do it?

It’s a humane and common-sense policy decision, and the rationale is simple: Young people who appreciate America and contribute to America, strengthen it. It’s just not right to punish children who’ve done nothing wrong, just because you don’t like what their parents did. It’s not just about where you were born that makes you American, it’s about how you live your life and what you do in the only country you’ve always loved and called home, too.

Issues raised by this decision

Is it a politically motivated decision? To be sure, it has a lot of appeal to Latino voters, a bloc that President Obama needs behind him in his reelection campaign. But to call it a cold, calculated political move isn’t fair. A cold, calculated political move is one that defies a candidate’s previously stated views—a flip-flop, if you will, such as suddenly taking credit for the auto industry bailout when you wrote an op-ed calling for allowing the industry to go bankrupt.

That’s not the case here. President Obama has been consistent in his support for the DREAM Act. The problem has been that the Republican-dominated House of Representatives has been equally consistent in obstructing any progress for DREAM legislation.

Does the President’s policy decision go too far? Is he overstepping his executive authority, as those who have obsessively opposed any and all DREAM proposals say? No, say nearly 100 law professors, who submitted a memorandum that says:

The ExecutiveBranch has the authority to grant … administrative relief to some significant number of DREAM Act beneficiaries, and that it has done so both historically and recently in similar situations.  In fact, the change is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion that is consistent with the current law and has decades of precedent.

By the way, the new policy of deferred action is not, as some would have us believe, an executive order designed to circumvent Congress. Rather, it’s prosecutorial discretion, which is a completely different animal. Those who continue to repeat the meme that the policy was issued as an executive order are deliberately creating a false and exaggerated impression.

The President probably wishes that he could go further. But in the face of incessant, mean-spirited obstruction in Congress, deferred action is about all he can do. And as for those on the left who are critical of the President for making a limited policy change, the question is, would you really rather see America elect an anti-immigrant President to the White House?

Also, deferred action is not  amnesty. Right-wing media have attacked the Obama administration’s policy change allowing some young undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States as “amnesty.” In fact, it’s not. But using the term “amnesty” works, if you want to produce negative reactions.  Deferred action lasts only for up to two years, subject to renewal. That’s far from amnesty.

Bottom line

I repeat: It’s the right thing to do. America is strengthened by holding onto young people who love America and its values and are contributing to it. How we treat aspiring citizens reflects our commitment to the values that define us as Americans.


Hat tip to Media Matters Action Network for talking points