The proposed Dream (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act is a significant part of US President Barack Obama’s ambitious and controversial plan to reform America’s immigration system.
Under the Dream Act, illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who entered the United States before the age of 16 and have lived there for five straight years, with good moral character, and graduated from an American high school, may, at the end of a 6-year period and after meeting certain other requirements, be granted permanent residency and possibly US citizenship. Obama has been backing the Dream Act and cited its passage among his campaign promises for his first term.
Obama’s efforts to fix the “broken” US immigration system have raised high hopes among Filipinos and other minorities in America. It’s a well-worn story: Filipino children are brought by their parents or other relatives to the United States, and there raised as Americans minus legal documents. They are the new generation of the “TNT (tago nang tago),” many of them unknowing of their shadowy background until they make the shocking discovery. The case of Philippine-born journalist Jose Antonio Vargas can very well speak for thousands, even millions.
Vargas, who was part of The Washington Post team that received the Pulitzer Prize for the coverage of the shooting at Virginia Tech University, has been living illegally in the United States since he was 12. He made public his true immigration status in an essay run by the New York Times Magazine in 2011. With his disclosure, he was thrown in jail despite being recognized as one of the best journalists in that country, and released soon after. Now living in America on borrowed time, Vargas continues to marshal support for the passage of the Dream Act though, at 31, he is one year too old to be covered by it.
In his over a decade of pushing the Dream Act as coauthor, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard Durbin has used the example of another Filipino, Jose Librojo, as a reason for its passage. Librojo entered the United States at 15, when his parents applied for political asylum. His parents’ application was rejected and they eventually returned home, but Librojo, who had a valid visa then, stayed. After graduating, Librojo worked as a dental assistant. But he was ordered to leave in 2011 when his appeal to be legalized was denied. Citing what he called “broken immigration laws,” Durbin said Librojo, “who’s done such a good job his employer wants to have him here permanently, is now facing the prospect of being deported to a country he cannot even remember.”
Vargas and Librojo have worked for an honest living in their adopted country, but are legally considered outsiders. The deportation of people like them, along with other professionals with advanced degrees and high skills who have no criminal record, strikes at the very heart of Obama’s campaign promise to legalize the stay of those who deserve it and to preserve their families.
Late last year, Obama announced his new immigration policy, called the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” This policy gives possible deportees a 2-year reprieve and the chance to acquire work permits. It has effectively halted the deportation of an estimated 800,000 immigrants, including thousands of children of Filipino origin illegally brought to the United States.
“They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” Obama said. Last week, Obama announced more immigration reforms, giving renewed hope to the 11 million members of the so-called “shadow population.” Vargas was present at the event held in Las Vegas; he later posted on his Facebook page: “This is the year, this is the moment, this is history.”
It’s going to be a long haul, of course. Indeed, the International Herald Tribune said in an editorial: “There is the real possibility that this road to [immigration] reform will be illusory, stacked with obstacles, dead ends and quick exits.” But Arturo P. Garcia, a Filipino-American immigrant rights activist, said: “We welcome this positive development that brings hope to the more than one million undocumented Filipinos in the US.” Everyone deserves the chance to make real their dream of living a life without fear in a place they truly consider their home.