Immigration Reform a Break for DREAMers Looking to Work
NEW YORK—Mubashar Ahmed was in Dubai in 2000, an 11-year-old with no thought of coming to the United States. But his sister, Alleeza Nazeed, was in grave danger. She had recently undergone brain surgery and was receiving aftercare. Her condition worsened and they gave her a month to live.
“The doctors said there was nothing that could be done,” Ahmed said on Monday. “Instead of just sitting, my dad decided to get a visa and come over here [the United States].”
Ahmed and his family flew to the United States with six-month visas, but Nazeed needed extensive, long-term care. Ahmed’s family flew back to Pakistan when their visas ran out, since they could not apply for visas while in the United States.
Ahmed’s family came back with a short-term visa and an application for a business visa that would allow them to stay in the U.S. long-term. Their application was denied and an inexperienced lawyer botched the paperwork on the three appeals.
“Basically we lost our status because of her [the lawyer’s] inability to apply the proper documents that was necessary,” Ahmed said.
Today the 23-year-old Ahmed is one of the estimated 1.4 million DREAMers, children of immigrants who came to this country with their families, but do not have legal status. If he leaves this country he would have to wait at least 10 years before being able to return, since his legal status expired.
“I have been here for as long as I remember. My whole family is here,” Ahmed said.
On Friday Ahmed got a little relief as President Obama announced a new Department of Homeland Security policy that would stop the prosecution and deportation of DREAMers who do not have a criminal record and who have made education or military service a priority.
“I think it is a good first step,” Ahmed said. While the new policy will not grant anyone full citizenship, it does allow for two-year work permits, something important to Ahmed, who will graduate with a degree in Chemical Engineering from City University of New York (CUNY) in December.
“I was very joyful because the timing was perfect. I was actually thinking of leaving to work abroad because I cannot work here,” Ahmed said.
Though only a few days old, as expected during an election year, the policy has ruffled feathers in the political arena. Supporters claim it is common sense reform while opponents of the policy say it is simply political pandering and may even be illegal.
Looking past the political knee-jerk reaction, the issue is as complicated as the immigration system itself.
“Everyone is still trying to wrap their heads around this,” said Mary Giovagnoli, director of Immigration Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “The process will essentially be phased in.”
Undocumented immigrants that meet the age, criminal background, and education requirements will fall into two categories: those the system is aware of, and those that are in the shadows.
Those in the shadows will wait 60 days while an application process will be put into place, and then they may apply.
For those already in the system, such as in court proceedings, this new policy will go into effect almost immediately, allowing those at risk of being deported due process.
During the 60-day period, if Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection encounter anyone, they have been instructed not to take them into proceedings.
Reform has been made before, such as the prosecutorial discretion memo from last year, which did not grant work authorization, and was slow to have cases approved.
“We believe it is the right thing to do, but we also feel that watching the implementation of the policy will be critical because as we saw with prosecutorial discretion, which was announced last year, to date only less than 2 percent of cases across the country have been closed under that policy,” said Jacki Esposito, director of Immigration Advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition.
To complicate matters further, the policy could be short-lived, depending on the November results.
“A different administration could revoke the whole program,” said Giovagnoli.
Home versus Citizenship
Ahmed will be watching the new policy implementation closely, as will his sister.
“She is much better now. She is continuing to receive medical treatment. It is definitely much better than what would have happened if we had just chosen to stay there [in Dubai],” Ahmed said.
For Ahmed the new policy provides a way for him to stay in America, a place he proudly calls home.
“It is not only my home in terms of living here, but in terms of the people. I don’t speak to anyone in Pakistan. My whole life is pretty much here. That is why America is definitely my home.”
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