The first response from many “Dreamers”—those immigrant students without documents who have been campaigning for the Dream Act to stop deportations and give them work permits—to President Obama’s order last week to do just that, was disbelief.
“It’s funny,” said Mubashar Ahmed, a 23-year-old from Pakistan. “I first read about the Obama statement on Facebook. I figured it was fake news so I deleted it. Then I saw a few more messages and called the NYIC and found out it was true.
“It’s incredible—and perfect timing for me. I’m applying for jobs for after graduation and now I’ll actually have a work permit, said Ahmed, a NY City College senior in chemical engineering who lives in Staten Island.
“My family is ecstatic. We had been talking about my having to leave the country which meant that I couldn’t apply for re-entry for ten years. My youngest sister was born here and this would have broken up my family.”
Yohan Garcia, a Hunter College student from Mexico who now lives in Brooklyn, had a similar response. “A reporter friend called me with the news of Obama’s announcement. For a moment, I couldn’t believe it. Then it hit me. Wow! And I felt tears fall from my eyes.
“I’ve been working on the Dream Act for three years and the two days before the White House statement, I’d been in Albany and City Hall talking with the governor, the mayor, members of the City Council.
“Finally, we know we won’t be deported. Finally we can get work permits. You can’t imagine what this means to us and our families.
Both Ahmed and Garcia are Dream Fellows at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and have been nearly full-time campaigners for the Dream Act.
“The argument by some people against us immigrants is that we are a drain on resources,” said Ahmed. “But in fact, with our determination and our productively, we actually a a great supply of resources to this country.
“With President Obama’s decision, I expect that now a lot of immigrants without papers who were afraid to come out will now do so. With more and more people, we can hopefully pass a real Dream Act that gives us permanent resident status.”
Garcia agreed/ “Now, in the coming months, we’ve got to convince the NY legislature and Governor Cuomo to pass the NY Dream Act. Certainly President Obama’s statement will help bring pressure to make that happen. And of course we will continue to work to make Congress to pass a federal Dream Act and make this the law.”
Their point that the White House order is not legislation and is in force only as long as Barack Obama is President, and is not a road to citizenship or even amnesty, was underscored by Estel Vazquez, 1199SEIU Executive Vice President who was honored at a banquet earlier this month by the NY Immigration Coalition for her lifetime devotion to the cause of comprehensive immigration reform.
“This is an incredible step forward by the President, but only the first step,” said Vazquez. “And it must be said that it would never have happened without the courage and determination by the Dreamers themselves who put their lives on the line by coming out in public, demonstrating, marching, sitting-in, hunger-striking, etc. For us in New York, our challenge now is to say get the NY Dream Act passed. We need to ask Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to step up or tell us why not.”