SPECIAL/HOPE IN DREAM ACT
Living in Limbo
Can the DREAM Act offer elusive hope to thousands of undocumented
people, asks Ritu Jha
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, drawnuptohelpforeign-
born minors, has been hanging fire
for a long time. But when
Homeland Security Secretary Janet
Napolitano announced recently that
the Obama administration has
established a new process to handle
deportation cases involving stu-
dents under the Act, it gave many
undocumented students hope.
It certainly brought some relief for
Chirayu Patel, who came to the
United States along with his parents
in 1994 on a visitor visa with a pos-
sibility of getting permanent resi-
dency — until things fell apart.
Thanks to errors in the complex
paperwork involved by an ‘immigra-
tion attorney,’ Patel now falls in the
undocumented category. Worse, the
‘attorney’ took $5,000 in fees —
money Patel’s parents borrowed
from friends and family members —
to file the paperwork.
Now Patel and his brother (who
Patel declined to name) are in limbo
as they wait for the immigration
authorities to decide on their status
under the DREAM Act.
“Often, we get depressed,” Patel
said. “Our life is here. Me and my
brother, we consider ourselves
Americans. We have spent our
entire lives here and this is the only
country we know. We know we have
no other options. We do not have
much close family in India,”
Aarti Kohli, director of immigra-
tion policy at the Chief Justice Earl
Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity
and Diversity at the Berkeley School
of Law in California, has been keen-
ly following the DREAM Act.
According to her, the administra-
tion’s announcement will spur
immigration officers to review the
files on a case-by-case basis — to see
if those who came to the country as
young children and know no other
home can perhaps be permitted to
stay on. Beyond a mere reprieve,
those affected by it could also get
work authorization and eventually
become lawful residents.
There is a caveat, though. While
the administration can use its dis-
cretionary power, to make it legislation requires an act of
will by Congress, one that could get the Act passed into
law, Kohli said.
To qualify under the DREAM Act, the person has to have
lived in the US for five years, earned a high school diplo-
ma or joined the military.
“Our system is so complex, and there are so many people
in the deportation system that there is a lot of concern that
you could get lost,” said Kohli. “The administration’s poli-
cies apply to only those students who are currently in
deportation proceedings. As far as I
know, there is no way for other
undocumented students to apply for
a work permit or get any adminis-
In a letter to members of
Congress, Napolitano has warned
the administration’s immigration
enforcement efforts ‘will not provide
categorical relief for any group.
Thus, this process will not alleviate
the need for passage of the DREAM
Act or for larger reforms to our
Kohli pointed out that a large
number of people could be affected
by a decision on the matter. She said
the Migration Policy Institute, a
Washington, DC-based nonparti-
san, nonprofit think tank, estimates
that there are 2.1 million potential
beneficiaries of the Dream Act, 10
percent of whom — about 210,000
— are from Asia. The new rules are
expected to affect 300,000 undocu-
mented people currently in deporta-
Lal, who has been vigorously advocating for the DREAM
Act, felt that Napolitano‘s announcement was a direct
result of the work activists like her have been doing. But it
could just as well be empty rhetoric as President Barack
Obama fights to get re-elected, she admitted.
According to her, she meets “12 of the 19 criteria set out
in the Morton prosecutorial discretion memo, but thus far
the DHS has taken no action. Even with dozens of advi-
sories, almost everyone I know is in the dark about pre-
cisely how this is supposed to work.”
Until things are clarified and/or set in stone, the DREAM
Act offers no real way out of the nightmare people like
Patel and Lal live in.
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