Undocumented students at Penn are preparing to take advantage of a new federal policy that is one step closer toward making the DREAM Act a reality.
In mid-August, undocumented students across the country began the process of applying for special protection from deportation under a new deferred action directive announced by President Barack Obama on June 15.
Engineering sophomore Alfredo Muniz, an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents when he was 1, is among many who are optimistic about the new policy.
“It’s one of the best laws I think, at least for me and people in my situation who didn’t have a choice but ended up committing a crime,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that the new policy is a temporary measure and that there is no path to citizenship yet for undocumented students like himself.
“The funny thing is that it doesn’t grant you legal status,” he said. “It’s like you’re legally illegal.”
The program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allows non-U.S. citizens to remain in the U.S. temporarily. To be eligible, the person applying for DACA must have arrived in the United States prior to their 16th birthday and have lived in the country for at least five years since June 15, 2007. They must also be between 15 to 30 years old, as of June 15, 2012.
Those applying must currently be enrolled in school or in the military. Students who have completed a General Equivalency Degree or graduated are also eligible.
Though some believe the new policy is a step forward for undocumented youth, others are reserving their judgment.
Wharton junior and Penn for Immigration Rights co-founder Tania Chairez, another undocumented immigrant, sees DACA as something that is being used by the Obama administration to appeal to Hispanic voters.
“I am very, very cautious in the way I feel about it, just because there have been other attempts by the administration to cater to the Hispanic vote,” she said.
However, Chairez — who was arrested in March at an immigration protest — does plan to apply for protection from deportation.
“I think undocumented immigrants should look at all the requirements and the stipulations. If they qualify and they have nothing to lose then they should apply,” she said. “With the right guidance, it should be good.”
David Bennion, an immigration attorney and member of immigration rights group DreamActivist Pennsylvania, also urged those who are applying to be cautious.
“Any arrests, any contacts with the criminal justice system, any contact with immigration — those are going to be the red flags [in the application],” he said. “If somebody is able to use an attorney to do it, they should.”
Currently, many nonprofits like DreamActivist have held or are planning to hold information sessions for those who will be impacted by the law. While no groups at Penn will hold similar sessions, students still plan to be active on this front.
“This is the type of thing we want to get moving on campus, just increasing the dialogue on immigration in general,” said College sophomore Sheila Quintana, an undocumented student and Daily Pennsylvanian contributing writer.
At the end of the day, Penn President Amy Gutmann, who has spoken out in favor the DREAM Act in the past, said she supports Obama’s policy.
“This is not the full enactment of the DREAM Act but it is better than nothing,” she said.