Adams: Relief for immigrant 'Dreamers' soon to be a reality

July 4, 2012
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Indiana Lawyer Commentary

By Angela D. Adams

angela adams Adams

Just minutes before attending my first session of the second day of the American Immigration Lawyers Association annual conference in Nashville, Tenn., I began to receive a flood of emails and tweets on my phone about an announcement which would completely change the lives of an estimated 1.4 million immigrant youth, commonly called “Dreamers,” across the country and between 21,000 and 29,000 immigrant youth in Indiana. As I stood in the coffee line, I wondered, “Is this really happening? Is this a joke? Am I dreaming?”

It was not a dream. Tears began to well up as I thought of all of the kids I have worked with in the last 15 years who would possibly benefit from this news. These are kids who were brought to the U.S. at a very young age through no fault of their own and have no other way to fix their status. They are Americans in every way except they are undocumented.

Along with 3,000 other immigration attorneys, I witnessed a live announcement that I and others have been anticipating for so long. The crowd smiled, cried, cheered and stood in disbelief as we listened and watched the president’s speech on three big screens. During commercial breaks we received briefings from AILA national staff. While the previous day had been spent largely criticizing the Obama administration for a lack of action in the area of immigration, Friday morning brought a complete game changer followed by a sudden change of heart. I will forever remember that as one of the top 10 coolest moments in my life.

Within the executive authority of the president, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a memorandum dated June 15, 2012, announcing that it would begin exercising prosecutorial discretion by allowing certain immigrant youth to apply for “deferred action.” Deferred action is a discretionary act of administrative convenience to the government which gives some cases lower priority. In an effort to clarify enforcement priorities, the Department of Homeland Security has decided not to initiate removal proceedings against those who meet the following five criteria for deferred action: (1) Entered the U.S. prior to the age of 16; (2) Continuous residence in the U.S. for at least five years immediately preceding and have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012; (3) Currently enrolled in school, have graduated from high school or have obtained a GED; (4) Not have a conviction for a felony offense, a substantial misdemeanor offense or multiple misdemeanor offenses; and (5) Not above the age of 30.

Individuals who qualify for deferred action will be eligible to apply for employment authorization for a period of two years, subject to renewal. Employment authorization allows one to also apply for a Social Security number and state identification card and/or driver’s license. In addition, deferred action may open the door for students to be eligible to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. Most importantly, deferred action will serve to protect qualifying individuals from deportation or removal.

Deferred action is not an amnesty or immunity. It does not lead to lawful permanent residency or U.S. citizenship. It does not permit one to apply for family members. Those who qualify are not able to vote and are still subject to removal if they commit certain removable offenses.

The process to apply for deferred action is still unknown and many details are yet to be determined. DHS has been instructed to issue further guidance and clarification on the requirements and details of the application process, form, filing fee, etc., in 60 days. Unfortunately, unscrupulous notarios and immigration consultants are already coming out of the woodwork to sell misinformation to the public. Individuals who believe they may be eligible should be advised to seek legal advice from a competent immigration attorney. In addition, individuals who do not qualify should not apply as this could open them up to serious consequences, including the possibility of being placed in removal proceedings.

One cannot help but appreciate the fascinating politics and ingenious timing of this executive directive. For starters, the announcement was made on the 30th anniversary of the seminal U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), in which the court held that undocumented school-age children could not be denied free access to public education. It was also the first anniversary of the president’s memorandum on prosecutorial discretion, which critics suggest did not go over as well as planned. Also not by coincidence, the annual AILA conference provided 3,000 messengers who were perfectly poised to positively spread the word. Republican leaders had already announced their own version and support of the DREAM Act, and this further forced their hand.

Undoubtedly and obviously rallying for the Latino vote, both parties are now forced to take a serious look at immigration reform as the result of this announcement. This memo, followed by a recent and historic U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Arizona law, Arizona v. U.S., 567 U.S. ___ (2012), have started the snowball rolling toward comprehensive immigration reform just in time for the next election. In fact, the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision to strike down major parts of Arizona’s immigration law suggests that the president acted within his executive power. The opinion emphasized the “broad discretion” of the federal government to set priorities in choosing which immigrants to deport. Even Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent said the executive branch has supremacy over immigration.

The battle has only just begun. The polls are showing that the majority of Americans (64 percent) support this policy of deferred action for Dreamers. Sometimes the political thing to do also happens to be the right thing to do. Much more than a political move, it appears that the president’s directive is slowly nudging the immigration conversation back to the middle — where it belongs. The challenge will continue to be getting Congress to face the music, have a rational debate on immigration reform and pass a long-term solution.•


Angela D. Adams is an attorney and director with the law firm of Lewis & Kappes P.C. concentrating on immigration matters. She is board president of the Immigrant Welcome Center and vice chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Indiana Chapter, and she has served as an education consultant for the Indiana Department of Education, division of language, minority and migrant programs. She is co-founder of META: Mapping Education Towards Achievement, a post-secondary awareness seminar for Hispanic students. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Lori, you must really love wedding cake stories like this one ... happy enuf ending for you?

  2. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  3. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  4. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  5. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?