Obama Praises DREAM Act While Deporting Dreamers
President Obama publicly committed today to passing the DREAM Act in 2011. He called the recent vote blocking the bill in the Senate his "biggest disappointment." White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said that grassroots activism will be essential to getting the DREAM Act passed.
Hearing these comments, I had to scratch my head. I have seen a lot of grassroots activism around the DREAM Act over the last couple years. Some of the most intense organizing has come from communities fighting to keep individual Dreamers from being deported ... by President Obama's immigration enforcement agency, ICE.
I have consulted on several such cases, and represented Dreamers directly in a few. In nearly every case I've seen, ICE fought tooth and nail to keep Dreamers locked up and get them deported. ICE attorneys often took harsh litigating positions with the goal of moving Dreamers out of the country as quickly as possible. ICE deportation officers often shut down requests to release Dreamers to pursue removal defense outside of detention.
ICE wouldn't budge on Steve Li's case last month, refusing to release him from detention even after his case got national attention and support from Dreamers around the country. He would likely be in Peru right now if Senator Feinstein hadn't introduced a private bill in the Senate, which put an automatic hold on Li's deportation.
In other cases, ICE refused to back down until a case got national media attention and the support of Senators.
Mark Farrales is detained right now in California, waiting to be deported. He came to the U.S. when he was 10 after his father was shot by gunmen in the Philippines. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and was working on his doctoral dissertation when he was arrested by ICE.
Dreamer Saad Nabeel was deported earlier this year. His attempts to reenter the country have been rejected by the federal government. There have likely been thousands of Dreamers among the nearly 400,000 people that ICE deported in FY 2010, but the great majority of those stories never made it into the papers. Most of those thousands probably didn't even know they were Dreamers.
It isn't that Obama's hands are tied in these cases by existing law. ICE has grudgingly exercised favorable discretion in limited cases, as it is the prerogative of the executive to do. Immigration policy is regarded by the courts as an area of foreign policy that happens to take place on domestic soil, and the other two branches of the federal government have ceded incredible discretion to the executive branch to execute the immigration laws as it sees fit. Too often as practicing immigration attorneys, my colleagues and I come up against an impregnable wall of executive discretion that is used to deport our clients. When will we find a president who uses this discretion to stop breaking up families instead of looking for more creative ways to deport people? Barack Obama has not been that president. Obama has the authority not to deport Dreamers, my guess is that he chooses to continue to fight to deport them because he is frightened of the political consequences should he not do so.
The only way Obama can continue to praise the DREAM Act in public while deporting Dreamers behind the scenes is if the press doesn't put both sides of the story together. I hope that we as pro-migrant activists, organizers, lawyers, and bloggers can make this story heard so Obama feels real pressure from the other side of this issue for once.
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