Photo by Tom Lohdan/Flickr (Creative Commons)
The Obama administration's announcement yesterday that it would back off on deporting "low priority" immigrants who don't present a public safety threat is being cheered by immigrant advocates, but questions remain as to who will benefit and to what extent.
According to the announcement, the deportation cases of immigrants with no criminal records and strong ties to the United States - particularly young people who arrived as children, military veterans and their families - will be reviewed on a case by case basis, and many could be spared deportation. Some people allowed to stay might even qualify for work permits.
But what kind of long-term solution does this represent, if any? Several pertinent questions were brought up yesterday during a live Twitter Q&A chat with White House intergovernmental affairs director Cecilia Muñoz. Among those who joined the discussion was Jose Antonio Vargas, an award-winning journalist who recently revealed his undocumented status. Here's a Storify(ed) timeline of the chat via the White House Blog.
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Last week, blow-by-blow updates on the deportation of a young man to South Africa scrolled across Twitter over the course of several hours. It wasn't the first time that young immigrant activists have used social media to intervene in a deportation, but in this case, the plane was about to depart.
The emotional pleas contained to 140 characters related to Andy Mathe, the eldest son of an Atlanta family that had sought political asylum since 2007. The family said they had been subject to death threats and the attempted kidnapping of a daughter; their father, a native of Rwanda who left that country following the genocide there, had gone into hiding while the mother and children left for the United States.
Hundreds of activists, students, bloggers, immigration attorneys and other Twitter users participated in a last-minute campaign, urging followers to contact the federal government and the airline. As the clock ticked toward takeoff, increasingly urgent tweets related an unfolding drama. "Stop the plane!" one screamed; others tweeted that Mathe had been drugged, which was not confirmed, though the practice has been employed in the past.
Here are just a few of the tweets, in a timeline:
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A man waits to be processed at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Arizona.
It was the Obama administration's strategic trade-off on immigration: A stepped-up approach to enforcement which, the President hoped, would help win over Republican lawmakers for bipartisan support of a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration system.
In the end, with insufficient support for anything broader, the only thing to stick this year has been the enforcement. The Obama administration has deported nearly 800,000 immigrants in the past two years, more than during any other two-year period in the nation's history.
The exact numbers for this year have been disputed: The record figure released last fall of more than more than 392,000 deportations in fiscal year 2010, which topped the 2009 record, turned out to include more than 19,000 immigrants removed the previous fiscal year, as well as a small number of repatriations that would normally have been counted by the U.S. Border Patrol.
Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
A sign outside a DREAM Act rally in Los Angeles last summer.
In recent weeks I've posted several stories and updates related to the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow a path to legal status for undocumented young people who attend college or enlist in the military. A House vote is expected soon, possibly later this week.
Part of the reason that the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which has been introduced and failed several times over the course of nearly a decade, is getting so much attention this time is because of unprecedented activism among the very undocumented students it would benefit.
During previous DREAM Act vote cycles, the bulk of these youths remained in the shadows. But since the bill was introduced again last year, a growing number of students who have been here illegally since they were children have been coming out publicly about their immigration status to make a statement in support of the bill, attaching their names and faces to it, and generating publicity. Some have risked arrest and deportation by participating in rallies and sit-ins; others have stuck their necks out as well-known student leaders.