Written by Connie Larkman
President Obama's major policy shift to stop deportations of young, undocumented immigrants is being received cautiously by those who had been actively protesting his previous position on the issue, including UCC pastors and lay leaders.
"My response to Obama's announcement comes from listening to the protesters who have been with us in Denver the last couple of weeks, and to the immigrant members of Comunidad Liberación/Liberation Community," said the Rev. Anne Dunlap, pastor of the Aurora, Colo., church that is a ministry of Mayflower UCC in Englewood, Colo. "Their response is one of cautious hope. While they are thankful that Obama has taken some action, it needs to be clear that this is not the executive order they have been and will continue demanding."
Local UCC pastors and lay leaders offered support to two undocumented young adults who staged a six-day hunger strike at Obama's re-election headquarters June 5-11 in Denver. The strike triggered a ripple effect of similar protests throughout the country calling for an executive order to enact the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act.
The DREAM Act, first proposed in the U.S. Senate in 2001, would provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented immigrants of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment.
Dunlap, a certified national trainer in the Justice Leaders Engaging and Developing (LED) program, said concern remains over the role that "prosecutorial discretion" will play in deciding the future of undocumented immigrants. "It leaves the decision of whether or not to deport someone in the hands of the prosecution," she said.
"Prosecutorial discretion has been demonstrated to be a failure, and so there is skepticism that DREAMers will see much change in their cases," said Dunlap. "There is concern that this announcement continues the administration's penchant for saying that publicly they support the DREAM Act and humane immigration reform, while on the ground, family-destroying enforcement policies . . . continue to be implemented and carried out, creating a deportation record under Obama that vastly outpaces his predecessors."
The June 15 policy memo also raises questions about eligibility and proper procedures for DREAMers to follow, said Dunlap. "Comunidad stands with DREAMers who will be watching this situation carefully and will be ready to hold the administration accountable if deportations of DREAMers continues."
According to a press release (http://theniya.org/breaking-statement-in-response-to-announcement-from-obama-admin-on-ded/) posted on the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) website, the "deferred action" for undocumented youth will take 60 days to go into effect.
"If it does not go into effect fully after 60 days and provide sufficient protection for undocumented youth, we will resume occupying the offices," the release reads. "We will also have zero tolerance for undocumented youth who enter deportation proceedings in the interim."
Access to the NIYA website has been limited since Obama's announcement, said Dunlap. "Their site has been repeatedly hacked since Friday (June 15)."
Obama's recent decision came after administration officials saw that he was losing the initiative to political opponents on an issue he had long championed, and that he was alienating the Latino voters who may be pivotal to his re-election bid.
Figures reported early in June by the Department of Homeland Security showed that a yearlong program designed to shift enforcement away from undocumented immigrants who pose no security risk was not producing results, with only about 500 young students nationwide spared from deportation.
"The DREAMers' courage to dream and imagine that another world is possible is blessing us," said the Rev. Nancy Rosas, a member of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries board and a leader in its Justice LED program.
"These beautiful youth are bringing a tired, broken, skeptical, community back together, teaching us, inspiring us by their breaking away from fear, from apathy, from individualism, from complacency to injustice," said Rosas, who also serves as Christian education minister at Washington Park (Colo.) UCC.
Rosas shared a story of a teenager who recently had gathered with a group to pray for the DREAMers. "He said their courage helped move him to erase his fear of being undocumented and queer," said Rosas. "In a way, he came out to the community tonight."
For further updates, visit http://thedreamwalk.org/ or https://twitter.com/#!/DreamAct.