A federal policy on immigration that was announced earlier this summer by President Barack Obama will have a true impact on the undocumented youth of the East End.
And we think that is a good thing.
Earlier this summer, President Obama announced an executive policy that will make it possible for undocumented youth – who are under 31 years old and were brought into the country before they turned 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years — opportunities they never had before.
In essence, the policy allows for those youth to apply for a two-year work visa and also enables those youth to legally apply for a driver’s license. We only wish it also included a clause that would allow undocumented youth the ability to apply for funding for higher education.
Under the mandate, youth are only eligible if they have graduated from high school – or have earned a GED – or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces. Applicants cannot have a criminal record.
In light of the standards set forth in this policy – standards that ensure applicants are in fact striving to be productive members of society — in our view, this is a long overdue policy and will have positive effects on the East End as well as the country.
Those who successfully apply under the program will receive a work permit for two years. Activists hope that within those two years, the policy will be renewed or an act of Congress will expand what is commonly known as the Dream Act and provide these youth a path to citizenship.
For those who qualify, the President’s decision is life altering. It will allow them to obtain driver’s licenses, something that will make working and living on the East End much easier. More importantly, though, it will make it possible for some of them to stop living their lives in fear.
What this issue boils down to is a simple fact: undocumented immigrants are a part of our community. They are our co-workers, our friends and our family members. Undocumented immigrants play a tremendous role in our local economy. For better or for worse, this is undeniable.
And yet, many undocumented people, especially young people, live with the fear that others may find out about their immigration status. This is unfair, and we believe Obama’s policy will help ameliorate this fear.
It will also create economic opportunity for young undocumented residents on the East End. With a work permit, those residents will now be able to apply to jobs without worrying about their immigration status. It will also make it much harder for employers to exploit those workers, creating a more equitable work force.
It will still be impossible for undocumented individuals to qualify for federal tuition assistance for college. This is unfortunate. Going to college means more career options and the ability, often, to pursue one’s dreams. The Department of Education must find a way to make those who are eligible for deferred action eligible for federal loans.
We would like to see larger Congressional consideration of the Dream Act, a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the types of young people who are eligible for Deferred Action. Being able to become a citizen of the country they have called home since their youth or adolescence will open countless doors.
In many cases, they are too young to even remember living anywhere but the United States. It is their country — it’s time for policy makers to recognize that and establish a path to citizenship for these young men and women.
Again, these are our friends, these are our neighbors and they are children. This is not a cause without a face and those who protest that should never forget that fact.