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DREAMers, DACA, and the Decision to Apply

The difficulties in passing immigration reform this year have led to a broad disillusionment among many DREAMers with the prospect of changing our laws to protect undocumented immigrants. It has even led some to ask whether DREAMers should seek protections for themselves if the broader masses of immigrants are not given legal status.

An example of one young immigrant who has raised these questions is Razeen Zaman, who accompanied her family to the United States as a child. Ms. Zaman is a student at Fordham Law School who has been active in pushing for immigration reform, but who has qualms about the special focus on DREAMers over other undocumented immigrants. She recently told National Public Radio that she does not describe herself as a DREAMer anymore because that description “creates a special elitist divide, where we create one category of deserving people, who deserve a better, a faster, an easier pathway to citizenship; and everyone else is somehow made undeserving.”

Many young people who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) tell me that they feel badly that they can work and live with at least temporary security in the United States while their parents and older brothers and sisters cannot. Few of them feel “more deserving” than their undocumented relatives. In fact, many say that their parents risked coming here to get their children away from the dangers of gangs in their home countries. Occasionally someone tells me they have not applied for DACA because they do not want to take advantage of a privilege denied to their family members.

A good friend of mine, Jackeline Saavedra, is a DREAMer who believes in immigration reform for all of the undocumented. She finished college and began law school without immigration legal status. While she was in school, DACA was announced and she received her work permit. She is now employed at Empire Justice as a staff attorney where she works on behalf of Long Island’s immigrants. Jackeline tells me that she has never seen the fight for DREAMers as being one to give them a special privilege. As someone with permission to be here, she says she has a better opportunity to help pass immigration reform. I can attest that she has used the space opened to her by DACA to struggle to gain immigrant legal status for all undocumented immigrants.

By taking advantage of the opening provided by DACA, Jackeline and other young immigrants have helped to make the voices of their parents and other immigrants heard.

The author, Pat Young, is an attorney with the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead.



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