Barack Obama, the US president, has announced that hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants who came to the US as children could be allowed to stay in the country. But is this an historic moment or simply a political ploy in an election year?
The DREAM Act, which proposes giving permanent residency to hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants, was first introduced in the Senate in August 2001. But it has floundered amid bickering and rancor on Capitol Hill.
"We [undocumented migrants] are in a situation where we feel like trick me once, shame on you, trick us twice, shame on me .... What we really need is an executive order to halt the deportation of DREAM Act eligible youth because if Obama signs that executive order there is a guarantee, there is a law, not just a memo or an announcement."
- Jonathan Perez, the co-founder of the Immigrant Youth Coalition
Nearly 11 years later, Obama has bypassed Congress and announced that some 800,000 primarily Latino migrants who came to the country as children could be allowed to stay in the US.
The White House is keen to stress that this is not an amnesty and to be eligible the migrants will have to have graduated from high school, have no criminal record and be under the age of 30.
Many Republicans have already criticised the decision, calling it unconstitutional and arguing that many unemployed US citizens will lose out.
Prior to this decision, immigrant rights activists had criticised Obama for increasing the number of deportations by 30 per cent since George Bush, the former US president, left office.
One undocumented migrant who may be affected by this decision told Al Jazeera: "This is the light of hope that everybody in my situation has been looking for …. Today, I can finally rest. I feel like this is just the greatest thing that has happened ever since I came here. I'm just so thankful for it."
So, just how significant is this decision?
Joining Inside Story: US 2012 to discuss this are: Kristian Ramos from the New Democrat Network; Jonathan Perez, an undocumented migrant and the co-founder of the Immigrant Youth Coalition in southern California; and Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post.
|"The president has always wanted to pass the DREAM Act, the president has always wanted to overhaul an immigration system that doesn't work for our country."
Kristian Ramos from the New Democrat Network
US IMMIGRATION FACTS:
- The change affects immigrants under the age of 30 who came to the US before the age of 16
- Immigrants must not have a criminal record or be considered a security threat
- Immigrants must have served in the military or be successful students
- Eligible applicants must be able to prove five years of US residency
- The change lets eligible applicants apply for work permits
- The US wants to focus more resources on immigrants who are considered to pose a threat
- The rule change is similar to some DREAM Act provisions
- Republicans have accused Obama of pandering to Hispanic votes in an election year
- The rule changes could affect some 800,000 people in the US
- 396,906 undocumented migrants were deported from the US in 2011
- In 2012, the US has so far deported 136,773 undocumented immigrants
- Some 250,000 immigrants were detained in the US in 2005, at a cost of close to $1bn
- Nearly 400,000 immigrants were detained by the US in 2010, at a cost of $1.8bn
- Half of undocumented migrants in US detention are kept in private prisons
- Corrections Corporation of America operates the most private prisons
- The cost of detaining undocumented migrants is $122-$166 per day
Click here to watch Activate - The Dreamers, a film that follows some of the young activists fighting for the DREAM Act.
Click here to watch Fault Lines - Punishment and Profits: Immigration Detention, a film that investigates the business of immigrant detention in the US.
Source: Al Jazeera