Closer to the DREAM: Obama’s New Policy a Good First Step for Young, Undocumented Immigrants

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Closer to the DREAM: Obama’s New Policy a Good First Step for Young, Undocumented Immigrants

by Felicia Collins Correia
CEO, YWCA Tulsa, Okla.

Felicia Collins Correia
Felicia Collins Correia

YWCA Tulsa has operated an immigrant and refugee program for nearly 30 years, serving newcomers to Tulsa through classes, document filing support, legal assistance, health programs, and advocacy. Thousands of people have come through our doors for decades, and we’ve seen up close the impact that federal and (since the passage of Oklahoma’s HB 1804 in 2007) even state immigration policy has on them – the mix of hope and trepidation when promising changes happen, the fear when bills are proposed at the state legislature, and the flight when those pernicious proposals threaten to become law. Oklahoma has experienced waves of immigration, and the result is a lot of mixed status households, where some members are at different places in the immigration process, and some have no access to it at all. In fact, we have to turn away 65 percent of the people who come to us for help, because there are no rules for them to play by, desperate as they are to do the right thing.

Having known these clients – especially the undocumented students who discover late in life that they don’t have a future after graduation – I obviously feel President Obama’s recent deferred action announcement concerning young, undocumented immigrants was long overdue. It will grant some relief to Tulsa’s immigrant community, particularly the young Latino population, since individuals who qualify under this action will not only be safe from deportation but also granted temporary authorization to work and financially support themselves and their families.

Being an optimist, I believe this is a sign of hope – maybe now the DREAM Act can gain momentum and pass in the next year, because it’s still critical: this announcement does not guarantee eligibility for a driver’s license or grant a social security card or a path to citizenship. These are powerful experiences that enable people to work and drive openly without the persistent fear of being separated from a loved one or deported to a country where they don’t know anyone, might not speak the language, and hold no memories. I have heard young Latinos tell me they can’t even speak Spanish and would be “scared to death” to be sent to a “foreign” country since they feel every bit as American as those who were born here.

President Obama’s announcement has reignited the national conversation on the immigration system, reiterating that – even during an election year – this issue will not go away. His action clearly puts more pressure on Congress, if for no other reason than the need to capture the crucial Latino vote. I don’t think politicians can continue to ignore this growing constituency and the mounting political pressure to act on some form of legislation to grant needed relief. I’m hopeful that this action will push our legislators to comprehensively reform the broken immigration system for the women and families we see each day.

Felicia Collins Correia has been the CEO of the YWCA Tulsa since December 2006. She previously served as the executive director of Domestic Violence Intervention Services for 18 years.  Collins Correia, a native New Yorker, earned her Masters of Social Work and Masters of Public Health degrees from Columbia University.

Editor’s Note: On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three parts of Arizona’s anti-immigration law, S.B. 1070, while upholding the most insidious provision, Section 2(B), which allows local law enforcement to ask for documentation and investigate one’s immigration status if they suspect a person is undocumented, leading to practices of racial profiling which the YWCA USA opposes.

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