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"DREAMers" gain protections under new immigration policy

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Immigrant advocates are celebrating a new policy that offers some protections for young immigrants.

And a few of them wasted no time heading to US immigration offices in Detroit on Wednesday, the first day applications became available.

The new Obama administration policy is the so-called the DREAM Relief Program—or, more formally, the “Deferred Action Enforcement Process for Young People Who Are Low Enforcement Priorities.”

It stems from repeated failures to get the DREAM Act through Congress. That law would have offered a path to citizenship for many young immigrants brought to the US as children.

The new policy allows DREAM Act-eligible youth to seek two years protection from deportation, and a work permit.

Several sought to do so immediately at US Immigration offices in Detroit, where supporters gathered to cheer them on.

One was Juan Sancen, an 18-year-old from Detroit, who plans to study math, physics, and electrical engineering in college. He applied to a number of top schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but wasn’t eligible for admission because of his immigration status.

Sancen says it’s not perfect, but the new policy opens some significant doors for him—including the right to get photo ID, so he can travel. He compares the experience of being undocumented to some tricky principles from quantum physics.

“Kind of like where two things can be at the same place at the same time,” Sancen said. “And so you feel the same way. Because I no longer consider myself a Mexican citizen, and I’m not considered an American citizen. So, it’s sort of an uncertainty principle.”

Daniel Morales, with the Alliance for Immigrant Rights and Reform, says this is a good first step to what he and other activists hope will be much more comprehensive immigration reform.

“For a lot of students, this means the ability to go to college, the ability to have a good job, the ability to live with some dignity--even if it is something that’s temporary,” Morales said.

Morales says organizers plan workshops and other events to make sure the word gets out to eligible participants—including one held at a Detroit UAW hall Wednesday that drew more than 1000.

Reliable data on undocumented immigrants is hard to find, but estimates suggest between 5-10,000 young people living in Michigan could qualify for deferred action--and as many as 1.8 million nationwide.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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