Last Wednesday, the immigrant rights activists known as the Dream 9 were released from federal custody on parole. The activists were returned to their communities after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ruled that the nine do, indeed, have credible fears for their lives if they are sent back to their home countries. While the legal process will likely be long and drawn out, the Dream 9's civil disobedience has already created an impact for comprehensive immigration reform.
The Dream 9 activists voluntarily attempted to cross from Mexico into the United States at Nogales, Arizona, knowing that they would be detained, and that their detentions could draw attention to the kinds of injustices that have been allowed to continue as immigration reform stalls in Congress. Three of the dreamers intentionally left the United States for the purpose of the civil disobedience action, while the other six had left previously for various personal reasons. While all chose to leave the United States, it was not their choice to have a status that could result in their deportation to countries that are not their home. Their release, and their application for amnesty, sets an example for immigrant detainees nationwide.
The Dream 9 named themselves after the Dream Act, a piece of federal legislation written in 2010 that provides a path to citizenship for folks who entered the United States before the age of 16, who must enroll college or join the military in order to be eligible. Because of its restrictions, the bill was an easy sell for folks who hate the idea of providing undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship. In order to qualify for the Dream Act, you have to be able to contribute to the economy, be smart enough to receive scholarships, be motivated enough to work diligently during college, and not succumb to drugs or criminal behavior. Undocumented individuals who struggle with drug addiction, test poorly, or come from difficult backgrounds run a higher risk of being deported, and the law excludes older people who came to the United States to provide for themselves and families.
Through their civil disobedience, the Dream 9 have highlighted the need for better, comprehensive immigration reform that could give 11 million people the opportunity to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation.
Undocumented immigrants aren't the only ones who stand to benefit from such reforms. According to a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office, an immigration reform bill recently passed by the Senate could boost direct spending by about $36 billion from 2014 to B2023. Additionally, the Levy Economics Institute, a research group at Bard College, suggests that, “legalizing a significant proportion of the undocumented immigrant population would not impose serious costs on either the economy in general or the social insurance system in particular.”
The Dream 9 participated in the civil disobedience encounter of the decade. They risked their freedom to address a human rights crisis that impacts millions of people living in the United States. Their broader message is clear: most of those detained are not criminals. Immigrants are mothers, daughters, workers, students, artists, and musicians. They can, and have been, contributing to the economy and their communities for years. It is time to place them on a path to citizenship.