Twenty-Two Senators Ask Obama to Stop Deporting DREAMers

The letter arrives amid talk that Senator Dick Durbin plans to reintroduce the federal DREAM Act.

By Julianne Hing Apr 14, 2011

Four months after the DREAM Act failed to clear a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate, 22 senators sent a letter to President Obama asking for deferred action for undocumented immigrant youth who would have qualified for the bill.

"We would support a grant of deferred action to all young people who meet the rigorous requirements necessary to be eligible for cancellation of removal or a stay of removal under the DREAM Act, as requested on a bipartisan basis by Senators Durbin and Lugar last April," the senators, all members of the Democratic caucus, wrote.

The letter arrives amidst talk that Senator Dick Durbin plans to reintroduce the federal DREAM Act. The bill would allow undocumented youth who’ve grown up in the country and commit two years to college or the military the right to adjust their immigration status if they clear a host of hurdles. The bill passed the House last December in a historic vote, and received a majority of Senate support but not the required 60 votes to clear the filibuster threat.

Among the signers to Wednesday’s letter were Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. Nelson actually backed the Senate filibuster of the DREAM Act in December.

The letter lays out several entirely feasible options for how to deal with the estimated 360,000 undocumented youth who would be eligible for the bill. (Last year the White House estimated that of that group, only about 65,000 would be able to clear the strict demands and eventually benefit from the bill.) The senators suggested granting deferred action to this class of immigrants, an action to stop the deportation of an undocumented immigrant, with the understanding that they are not a high priority for removal from the country. They also pointed out that the Department of Homeland Security does not have a consistent policy with how to deal with undocument immigrant youth. Many undocumented immigrant youth have successfully fought their deportations with the support of a national network of immigrant youth activists. At a town hall hosted by Univision last month, President Obama insisted he’s not trying to go after DREAM Act-eligible youth, but that it’s not within his power to stop their deportations. 

After the DREAM Act’s failure in December, this group of young people is still living in limbo. Like their parents and the rest of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, they do not have authorization to work and face significant economic barriers to getting their education. And would-be beneficiaries of the DREAM Act keep getting removal orders.

"Your Administration has a strong record of enforcement, having deported a record number of undocumented immigrants last year," the senators, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, remind Obama. "At the same time, you have granted deferred action to a small number of DREAM Act students on a case-by-case basis, just as the Bush Administration did."

"As you said in your State of the Union Address, "let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation."

Despite plans for a reintroduction soon, hopes for a federal DREAM Act in the next two years are quite slim. In light of all that, the senators’ letter reads as a challenge to Obama, who seems to want it both ways. What’ll it be, Mr. President?