Why It's Too Soon To Tell If Obama's Immigration Announcement Will Change Anything

oumou torreOumou Troure photo featured in The Thing Is, I’m Undocumented. (Photo by Rania Matar)

On Friday afternoon, minutes after President Obama announced that his administration would not deport undocumented youth or DREAMers, those who would be eligible for immigration relief through the passage of the DREAM Act, I got a call. It was Oumou Troure, the Boston high school student I followed around during her senior year so that I could report on what happens when a young person on the cusp of her future can’t work or go to school because she doesn’t have papers. She was elated, echoing much of the excitement around the announcement.

I was cautiously optimistic. In the Rose Garden speech on June 15, Obama said, “This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship,” so I wondered if this was very different from last year’s memos on prosecutorial discretion, which stated that undocumented youth without criminal records weren’t a high enforcement priority for removal.

In an email, Paromita Shah, associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, expressed this same caution. “We are thrilled that the President took this important step in response to the inspiring sacrifices that DREAMers made to make their voices heard,” she wrote. “Until we see the rules and regulations, we reserve judgment about whether its implementation will be in keeping with the spirit of the announcement.” She was disappointed with the bars to eligibility and worried what terms like “significant misdemeanor” meant as this includes possession of a controlled substance. Shah continued, “Barring eligibility for those who possess a joint of marijuana seems unduly harsh.”

Despite the caution, there’s no denying that the President’s desire “to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people” is significant. It’s hope. For the next two months, as the details are worked out, young DREAMers can feel some relief from fear of removal. The stress and uncertainty of living in this country without legal status takes a toll, as I can attest from my experience long ago as an undocumented high school student.

A few days later, Oumou texted me a picture. To mark how she feels, Oumou’s sister Joelma gave her a tattoo of a rose — a reminder that the thorns of life may cause pain, but that faith and beauty will prevail.