On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced a change in policy for many young immigrants or "DREAMers" living in the United States without legal authorization. Assistant Research Professor Anastasia Mann, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics' Program on Immigration and Democracy, explains what the change might mean nationally and here in New Jersey.
Rutgers Today: Who are the "DREAMers?"
Anastasia Mann: The term “DREAMers” comes from a bill known as Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. Initially introduced by Republicans and Democrats in Congress in 2001, the legislation would have provided a path to citizenship to qualified young people who had been brought to the U.S. as children without legal authorization. Over the years, various versions of the law have been proposed, most recently in 2011. Eligibility depends on age, level of education attained in America and moral character, among other requirements.
Rutgers Today: What does the White House announcement mean?
Mann: The president's announcement did not make the DREAM Act a law. What President Obama said is that people under 30 years old who meet certain conditions, for example, came to the U.S. when they were younger than 16, attended high school or earned a GED, or served in the military and showed good moral character will not be deported and can apply for work authorization for two years. We are still learning how the policy will be implemented.
Rutgers Today: A large number of undocumented people live in New Jersey. How will the new policy be felt across the state and specifically at Rutgers?
Mann: Approximately 60,000 young DREAMers in New Jersey are likely to benefit from the policy. Some attend high schools and colleges here. Others already work. At Rutgers, these students typically pay out-of-state tuition rates even though most have spent their whole lives in New Jersey. In the workplace, exploitative employers often get away with paying these undocumented workers lower wages. Because of their legal status, many hesitate to report the mistreatment – even though it is illegal. When employers can get away with exploiting some workers, all workers lose out. In this sense, the new policy provides security to all workers.
Rutgers Today: Does the change completely "fix" U.S. immigration policy?
Mann: No. The change President Obama announced marks a first step, but it is only a beginning. If immigration policy is to be made consistent with American history, law and economic needs, other changes are needed. First, the status of qualified DREAMers will need to be resolved for the long term. Then there are the parents and others who came to the U.S., like generations before them, looking to make better lives for themselves and their children. Finally, only comprehensive immigration reform will protect the civil rights, economic productivity and public safety of those who live here. Just consider the undocumented immigrant who is a victim of a crime, but afraid to report it to the police for fear of being deported. Everyone is less well off when one segment of society lives in fear.
RUTGERS TODAY: How can the Rutgers community get involved?
Mann: DREAMers need allies to stand with them as they seek a more comprehensive solution to the broken immigration system. Members of the Rutgers community can volunteer with Citizenship Rutgers, an initiative that draws much support from within and outside the university. Since 2011, Citizenship Rutgers has offered qualified green card holders free, high quality assistance with their citizenship applications. So far our volunteer corps has almost 200 members and more than 450 people have received assistance. An initiative highlight occurred last fall when the Eagleton Institute hosted Rutgers’ first-ever citizenship ceremony. Thirty-four people from countries as distant as Poland, Nigeria, Egypt, China and Ecuador took the oath of allegiance and became U.S. citizens.
Interested parties can learn more by visiting the Eagleton Program on Immigration and Democracy web site, where we post information on our speaker series and related research. Numerous courses at Rutgers explore different dimensions of immigration to the U.S., historically through the present day. For example, to understand the role that low-wage immigrant labor and related policy has played in the American workforce, students can take a course with Professor Janice Fine of the School of Management and Labor Relations. In the Department of Hispanic and Latino Carribean Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, Professor Ulla Berg's work focuses on cultural identity among migrants.
General information on the new policy and how to apply for the new status, called "deferred action," can be found at U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Media Contact: Steve Manas
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