June 20, 2012
BOSTON — Deivid Ribeiro sat at a hand-me-down table in the Student Immigration Movement office in Boston’s Chinatown.
“We have to celebrate!” he said excitedly to two friends. “I haven’t celebrated yet!”
For the 23-year-old, the June 15 immigration announcement has abated a gnawing fear. “I’ve always had the thought in the back of my mind, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen if I get pulled over, or anything, and I’d get detained,’” he said. “I’ve always had that fear.”
The road up until Friday
That’s because Ribeiro and his family are illegal immigrants, having arrived from Brazil 15 years ago. I spoke with Ribeiro in 2010, as he anxiously watched Congress debate the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act would put young illegal immigrants like Ribeiro, who were brought to the U.S. as kids, on a path to citizenship if they complete 2 years of college or served in the military.
But the bill never passed. So Ribeiro went on with life, which in his case meant more physics classes at Brown University. Then came President Barack Obama’s surprise announcement.
“It makes no sense to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are Americans,” said the president.
Ribeiro said his reaction was instant relief.
“I was instantly — OK, I don’t have to worry about that as much anymore. OK. I’m secure,” he said, laughing.
Effective immediately, an estimated 800,000 young illegal immigrants are now shielded from deportation and will be given work permits if they meet certain requirements: They had to be under 16 years old when they arrived in the U.S. and be under 30 now; they have to have lived here for 5 continuous years; they must have a high school diploma or a GED or have served in the military; and they have to have a clean record.
“I’ll be able to get a job, interning at school or be able to get a job that will [let] me have health insurance, or dental insurance,” said Ribeiro. “All of those things would be new things that I haven’t had in my life.”
Doubts and the DREAM
But some, including Ribeiro, are questioning the president’s timing. It’s an election year and some of Obama’s supporters are upset with his lackluster approach to immigration reform — something he promised during the last presidential elections.
“Yeah. Took way too long. Even this is a small step, but even this little step took way too long,” said Ribeiro. “I wish he had done it earlier because he had more support earlier with the Congress more Democrat.”
Ribeiro also wished the change went further and offered a path to citizenship — something the DREAM Act would have done.
“There’s so much more with the citizenship. If I was able to get the work permit, that would allow me to get certain jobs, but I would still not be able to get certain types of benefits,” said Ribeiro. “I would still worry about insurance or worry about what would happen if the law was changed, if there’s a new president. Whereas, if there was citizenship, permanent residency, then I’d be protected by the law.”
But with this latest policy shift causing such an uproar in Congress, it’s unlikely the DREAM Act will pass anytime soon.