For many, it was a day that they thought would never come. Immigrant communities, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were all aflame today, August 15, 2012, as foreign-born young people celebrated the opening of the “Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program. The Citizenship and Immigration Service officially began accepting applications for deferred action for young people who were brought to the U.S. as children, have resided continuously for at least five years, successfully attended school and, generally stayed out of trouble. For the last two months, we have met hundreds of these young people and learned of their dreams to be doctors, lawyers, architects, business owners and soldiers. We witnessed the nervous optimism of their parents, as they watched their children realize the opportunity that they have struggled for for decades. And we have felt the hope and joy as these young people seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to more fully integrate themselves into American society.
Today was a magnificent day. Benach Ragland lawyers, Andres Benach and Thomas Ragland, participated in an event sponsored by United We Dream, the National Immigration Forum, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association to provide pro bono counsel to young people preparing applications for deferred action. The media was there and, boy, were these kids ready. More than any lawyer, the DREAMers could articulate their claim to the American Dream. I do not know how one looks into the eyes of these brave and amazing young people and tells them that their dreams are impossible. The fact that today even occurred is a testament to the commitment of DREAMers like Prerna Lal, Gaby Pacheco, Matias Ramos, Mo Abdollahi and countless others who organized, marched, got themselves arrested and forced the Administration to recognize their humanity.
Thomas Ragland spent twenty minutes speaking with a mother from El Salvador, who had accompanied her daughter to the event. After answering a number of her questions, Thomas says, “I saw the tension disappear from her face. She smiled broadly and said, ‘I am so excited.'” Today’s event meant that her daughter would have a chance to realize her dreams, unlock her potential and become a closer part of the American community, a community she always saw as her own. In Chicago, 11,000 showed up for a city-sponsored event at the Navy Pier promoting deferred action for undocumented youth. The hope and potential unleashed by today’s program will benefit American society for decades to come.
Today was just a beginning. The DACA program does not provide a long-term solution. That is up to Congress, which has failed these young people and America. It is certain, however, that this group of engaged, motivated and optimistic young people will continue to agitate for meaningful immigration reform. With the security of work permits and a reprieve from the threat of removal, there is little that they can not accomplish.