By Giovanni Escobedo, Líderes Avanzando Fellow
We are only a few weeks into the year, but a lot of things have happened that affect our undocumented and DACAmented communities. For starters, the Supreme Court decided not to take action regarding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), leaving the issues in the hands of Congress until the court’s next term in October. With this decision, President Trump still has leverage for a deal with Congress: DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) protections in exchange for his border wall.
We, the DACA and undocumented communities, feel it is time Congress boldly follow President Obama’s plea to fix the immigration system and give us the relief we have spent 20 years advocating for.
“Precisely because [DACA] is temporary, Congress needs to act. There’s still time for Congress to pass the DREAM Act this year because these kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two-year increments,” Obama said when DACA was announced on June 15, 2012.
This new Congress is far more progressive and diverse than any we have ever seen. For example, there are more women—including the nation’s first two Native American women representatives, more Latino and Black members, and several openly LGBTQ members. Their new energy is beaming through the halls of Congress and into the televisions and mobile phones across the country.
Millions of undocumented young people like myself are anxiously checking breaking news updates and opinion stories and to see how they might finally resolve our immigration issues. Even though we can’t vote, our situation has forced us to follow politics from an early age, and for many of us, we’ve learned to engage the electoral process by knocking on doors, offering ideas for sensible policies, and asking friends and family who are eligible to vote to cast a ballot for candidates who represent these agendas.
The drastic demographic and political shift we saw in the 2018 midterms are a sign that Americans are ready for a change. We undocumented and DACAmented people are no different from those voters. We too want to see policies that reflect and support our communities. We have one more year to continue fighting for a solution, and we intend to use every single day to hold our politicians accountable and remind them we are a big part of what makes this country great.
Hopeful that with this bold new Congress will help us realize our dreams, I compiled a list of asks with my fellow undocumented and DACAmented friends. We might not achieve all of them—at least not at once, but we think with your help we can turn the tide in our favor. I invite you to refer to this list while lobbying your elected officials on our behalf.
- Uphold International Asylum Agreements: Asylum seekers are supposed to be extended basic protections under international treaties created to protect refugees after World War II. The US has a history of accepting refugees since World War II and has signed the 1951 and 167 international treaties protecting refugees. It is imperative that the US gives an opportunity to the thousands of Central Americans fleeing the countries in search of a better future the same way it has done for European countries in the past.
- Close Inhumane Immigration Detention Facilities: It is time for immigrants documented or not to be treated with dignity. The Department of Homeland Security has failed to implement adequate and standards to protect detainees from abuses resulting in recent deaths in several detention centers. We ask that these detention centers are closed and other more humane alternatives are found to house immigrants waiting for their cases to be processed.
- Expand Funding for Undocumented Students in Higher Education: In the spirit of leveling the playing field for all, it is essential that undocumented, DACAmented, TPS holders, and other non-citizens have greater access to higher education institutions across the country. One of the best ways to do that is by expanding Pell Grant eligibility to include undocumented and DACAmented students.
- Reinstate Advance Parole for Travel Abroad: Advance Parole was a policy that allowed DACA recipients to take their education or work experiences overseas for the purposes of humanitarian aid and global business. During this program’s existence from 2012 to 2016, advance parole grantees represented the country with pride and honor, advancing diplomacy, goodwill, and prosperity, all of which our world desperately needs right now. As such, we want to see Congress reinstate it.
- Make Non-Citizens Eligible for Federal Jobs: Under current regulations, only citizens can work for the federal government, yet there is so much potential among DACAmented, TPS holders, and Permanent Legal Residents to contribute to our country by holding positions in the federal government.
- Create Federal Standards for Professional Licensing: Currently, the administration and regulation of professional licenses is a state responsibility, making it harder to streamline standards for industries such as medicine and law. Professional licensing affects all professionals seeking them, but several requirements bar DACA recipients altogether, leaving them stranded after obtaining their higher degrees.
- Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Last but not least, it is time for members of Congress to quit clinging to political labels and work together to overhaul our broken immigration system. This can only be done by passing sensible immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s more than 11 million immigrants.
We immigrants are an integral part of the country. We need government—and society as a whole—to recognize our contributions by including us in the conversation. We have been fighting for 20 years, and we’ve got at least another year to go. We won’t give up the fight to ensure all people residing in the United States have a fair shot at the American dream. With support from legislators from both sides of the isle we have reason to be hopeful, but as President Obama said back in 2012, Congress Needs to act now. I want to invite my fellow DACAmented and undocumented people to continue lobbying and advocating in favor of laws that will recognize our rightful place in society. I want documented U.S. residents and American citizens to do the same. We might be called DREAMers, but we won’t rest until we reach our goals.