By Perry Diaz
On August 15, 2012, thousands of young people who were hiding in the shadows of their undocumented parents finally came out in the open to avail of President Barack Obama’s executive order halting the deportation of young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers.”
The Dreamers are lining up in offices set up by the government throughout the United States to file applications and get work permits. Under the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was signed by Obama last June 15, it is estimated that there are about 800,000 young people who are qualified to apply in this program. However, the program is only a temporary relief for two years. But to a lot of the Dreamers, a two-year relief is better than immediate deportation.
The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 with Republican co-authors in the Senate and House of Representatives. But over the years, the DREAM Act failed to garner enough votes to become law. In 2010, a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act. In the Senate, it passed it with 55 votes; however, it fell short of the supermajority vote of 60, which was needed to prevent a filibuster by the Republicans. It has been in limbo since then.
In a press conference in the Rose Garden following the issuance of his executive order, Obama said, “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
These young Americans that Obama referred to in his speech include an estimated 50,000 Filipinos “Dreamers.” One Filipino Dreamer who gained celebrity status is Jose Antonio Vargas. He was born in the Philippines. In 1993, his mother sent him to the United States to live with his grandparents without obtaining a permanent visa – or “green card” – for him.
In 1997, the young Vargas found out that he was an illegal immigrant when he tried to obtain a California driver’s license. He then realized that the documents provided by his family were fraudulent. He kept his status secret. And with the help of friends, he was able to get false green card, driver’s license, and a Filipino passport; thus, avoiding deportation.
The following year he pursued a career in journalism. He worked for various newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Daily News, Washington Post, and Huffington Post. In 2008, he was a member of the team that won the “Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.”
In June 2011, Vargas wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine and revealed his status as an “undocumented immigrant.” He said that he did so in order to start a dialogue about what he felt was a “broken immigration system” in the United States and also to advocate for the DREAM Act. The following year, Vargas wrote a cover story for Time Magazine about the uncertainty of his immigration status since his revelation. Shortly after that article was published, Obama signed the executive order halting the deportation of young undocumented immigrants. But, ironically, it was a bittersweet victory for Vargas because he did not qualify due to his age.
Last June, Vargas wrote another article for Time Magazine titled, “Not Legal Not Leaving.” Yes, he is still in the U.S. and he wondered why Homeland Security has not deported him yet? Perhaps they find him too hot to handle.
But for those who qualified, Obama’s executive order is a blessing, albeit temporary. Who knows the next Congress might pass the DREAM Act in 2013 or 2014 before the Deferred Action program expires. And this is where the DREAM Act becomes a political hot potato in the upcoming presidential elections.
During the Republican primaries,was asked what he would do if the DREAM Act was passed by Congress? Quickly, he responded, “I’d veto it!” But since then he tried very hard not to discuss immigration upon realizing that the DREAM Act was very popular among Latino voters. Indeed, recent polls show Obama having a 70% approval rating among Latinos to Romney’s 23%.
How about the Filipino-American community? What are they doing to spread the word in the community to make sure that young children of TNTs – overstaying tourists known as “tago ng tago” or TNT – would come out of hiding and avail of Obama’s Deferred Action policy.
But sad to say, on the first day of registration for Dreamers last August 15, no Filipino showed up at a rally in front of the Los Angeles Federal building. A news report quoted Kent Wong, the Director of the UCLA Labor Research and Education, as saying: “Within the University of California, 40 percent of our undocumented students are Asians and the largest percentage of undocumented Asians in the U.S. today are Filipino so this is a huge issue in the Filipino community. This is a huge issue in the Asian American community. Community leaders need to step forward and encourage immigrant youths to apply for this deferred action and work authorization.”
However, it was different in Chicago on that same day. It was reported in the news that out of the 13,000 young undocumented immigrants who showed up to register at Navy Pier, there were about 5,000 Filipinos who lined up.
Community organizers set up a stage for their “Dream Relief Rally” at the registration area. When they saw Jose Antonio Vargas – who was covering the event for Time Magazine -- in the crowd, they invited him to join them on stage.
The momentous day passed with great expectations among the Dreamers. Finally, they got the respite they needed to pursue their dreams without fear of deportation. This was just the beginning of their journey toward citizenship. But it’s not going to be easy; there are obstacles along the way.
Republicans opposed the DREAM Act and their standard bearer, Mitt Romney, would see to it that it will fail to pass in Congress and if it passed, he would veto it as he had promised during the primaries.
Right-wing commentators the likes of Russ Limbaugh,, and are ranting and raving about Obama’s Deferred Action policy. Their message of hate is hitting the airwaves and television like plague.
Community action is the most effective deterrent that could neutralize opposition to Deferred Action. And that is at the polls on Election Day. If Romney wins, the Dreamers lose.
This is a wake-up call. It’s time to act.