Undocumented Life: Obama's Dream Act-lite announcement bittersweet

Young people brought to this country illegally as children won a battle last week after more than 10 years of fighting.

But some of these so-called Dream Act students say they are cautious about celebrating too soon.

President Barack Obama announced Friday his administration will stop deporting undocumented immigrants who, among other qualifications, are under 30, are in school or have graduated high school, came to the U.S. before they were 16 and have been here at least five years.

Under the new program, these undocumented young people would not be given any permanent legal status. Insteady, they'll be able to work legally and be freed from the constant overhanging threat of being kicked out of a country they've known, in many cases, their whole lives.

The work authorization must be renewed every two years.

"This announcement brought hope," said Alaa Mukahhal, a Chicago Dream Act activist who is facing deportation. “But it only works if it’s implemented. We will continue to push forward.”

Obama's act was done as an executive order, and as such is immediately in effect and does not require congressional approval - a move some lawmakers, particularly Republicans, are upset about.

Mukahhal moved to Chicago when she was 7 years old. She was born in Kuwait and is of Palestinian decent.

With the financial help of her parents, she graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a degree in architecture.

Alaa Mukahhal, a graduate of University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, came to the U.S. when she was seven. Photo by William Camargo.

She became an outspoken supporter of the Dream Act -- short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act which, was first introduced to Congress in 2001 – a few years ago.

She was placed under deportation proceedings last June when she filed for political asylum.

Mukahhal said the announcement seems to be a political move by the Obama administration to gain the support of immigration reformers and activists during his re-election bid.

Up to 1.4 million children and young adults who are in the United States illegally could potentially benefit from this shift in deportation priorities, according to the Hispanic Pew Center.

Other immigration activists say the announcement was bittersweet.

“While we celebrate this victory,” the Rev. Walter Coleman said during his Sunday sermon. “We also recognize that he acted only for the Dream students because he could give them relief without admitting the responsibility of this nation for the system of undocumented labor – and for the torture of families to control its numbers.”

Coleman, whose congregation offered refuge to Elvira Arellano, continued: “He could say they were brought here as children and therefore were not guilty of the 'sins' of their parents. He could do so by inducing them to join in the hypocrisy of criminalizing their own parent! He gave us hypocrisy – with benefits! He was forced to attempt to divide us because of our unity. That attempt to divide will not work.”

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