Obama Refuses to Deport Undocumented Youth...Sort of

President Obama’s new immigration policy could stop the deportations of 800,000 undocumented youth, but the caveats are incredible. To be eligible, one must have come to the United States at least five years ago and must have been under the age of 16, must not be older than 30 now, must be a veteran, high school graduate, or be in school, must have not been convicted of any crime, and must be able to prove all of this through “verifiable documentation.”  Then, on top of all of that, the Department of Homeland Security asserted (multiple times) that this will only be decided on a “case-by-case basis.” Even if one does fit all the criteria, “DHS cannot provide any assurance that all such requests will be granted.”

Now, let’s imagine that Obama keeps his promise (I know it might be hard), and 800,000 undocumented youth win “deferred action” for two years and eligibility to apply for work authorization. Then what?

This policy provides no path to legal status. That is the essential part of the DREAM Act that hundreds of thousands have fought for and that Obama promised. During his campaign, Obama promised the passage of the DREAM Act, but failed to make it a reality even when his party controlled both houses of Congress. Furthermore, the 800,000 people for whom this policy might – on a case-by-case basis, of course – provide a reprieve are only 7 percent of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Obama’s actions speak louder than his words: He has already deported over 1.2 million people, more than twice as many as Bush.

This announcement is partially another get-votes-quick scheme. However, this is also partially a victory — but it is just a mustard seed of justice, and it threatens to not even be that. That is why we must know who won this small victory, and how, so we can win again and bigger.

The under-reported story is that in the week before this new policy, undocumented youth occupied Obama campaign offices in over a dozen cities and went on hunger strikes to demand that Obama end the deportation of immigrant youth. We may not have heard about these bold and coordinated actions, but Obama certainly did. Courageous DREAMers, like Hernandez, Gomez, Abdollahi, and many more, risked prison, hunger and deportation for human dignity. The DREAMers are fighting for much more than this policy delivers, which is why they are not stopping, and why we need a larger, stronger movement that will fight to win.

Let’s be clear. The criticisms here do not, in any way, let Romney and the Republicans off the hook.

Romney and his party are just as bad as the Democrats in practice and extremely more racist in rhetoric. Romney vehemently supported Arizona’s strict immigration laws, upholding them as a “model.” He pledged to veto the DREAM Act and he launched multiple campaign ads against his own Republican peers, attacking them for any pro-immigration policies they undertook.

What both presidential candidates and their parties do promise, however, is continued, unrelenting scapegoating of undocumented immigrants. All parties (and the DHS memo) harp on the “danger” of “criminal” “illegals” and “aliens.” They are “risks to national security and public safety.” And yet, the DHS’s own numbers show that over 50 percent of the people they deported have no criminal record whatsoever.

That’s more than half a million people.

The other half are often only “guilty” of having crossed the border or faked documents to be able to earn a wage and provide food for their families. In fact, immigrants commit fewer crimes than the rest of the population, as shown in a 2007 report by the Immigration Policy Center. Politicians complain that undocumented immigrants steal from the public coffers – surprise, they’ve got it wrong yet again. Undocumented immigrants actually pay $80,000 more in taxes per capita than they use in government services, according to a study by the National Council of La Raza.

So why do they lie? By criminalizing undocumented immigrants (and black, LGBTQI, Arab, Muslim folks, and many more) and scapegoating them for society’s problems, the ruling class keeps us divided and blinded to the fact that it’s they who are profiting off of all of us.

The truth is no one is illegal, and we can and must end all deportations. If someone tells you otherwise, remember that folks used to say slavery was right and women shouldn’t have the right to vote. Those oppressions were dismantled only because of fighting, organized mass movements. We need that again today.

As Howard Zinn said, “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but 'who is sitting in'."