Incremental Steps Still Spell Progress

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On Sunday the New York Times correctly called upon President Obama to halt the high rates of deportations of law-abiding, productive immigrants who deserve to remain in the US. (Yes He Can, on Immigration) The editorial acknowledges that it is not the President’s fault that Congressional inaction has stalled the drive toward comprehensive immigration reform, but urges him to move quickly to make policy changes that are within his control. This includes expanding a NYLAG recommendation enacted by the President two years ago permitting many young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, to apply for immigration relief through a process called “Deferred Action”. While it is not a pathway to citizenship or a green card, Deferred Action entitles certain immigrants to receive temporary work authorization and other benefits. Under this policy, NYLAG has been able to protect thousands of young people from the risk of deportation. It is time for the Administration to offer the same protection to the parents of Dreamers, and to the many other undocumented immigrants forced to live in the shadows.

If he acts, the President would be following the lead of states and local governments who are not waiting for federal reforms, but taking meaningful steps now to help immigrants integrate into their communities, and contribute more in return.

Last November the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) published a report about the significant surge in pro-immigrant policies in 2013. This includes extending access to driver’s licenses or other IDs (New York City is working on one right now), along with moves to expand workplace rights for domestic workers and protections for workers whose employers exploit them based on their status.

The NILC report highlights another trend, where New York State has a head start: improved access to higher education for immigrant students. New York was one of the first states to enact legislation (in 2002) that provides in-state tuition rates for students attending state colleges and universities, regardless of their immigration status. 16 states have since adopted similar laws, and several more are getting close.

Unfortunately, earlier this year New York came up one vote short of passing a bill that would have taken this one step further by giving undocumented immigrant students access to public financial aid. This is a shame. Too many talented and motivated young immigrants – among our best and brightest – cannot afford the cost of a college education. I hope we get this right in the future.

As to President Obama, I remain optimistic. There is a balance of powers for a reason.  He has the opportunity to ensure his legacy as an advocate for deserving immigrants.

Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge

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