President Barack Obama’s announcement that he now supports same-sex marriage came, he said, as the result of a process of “evolution” and a question of principles.
The announcement was a risky political move, to be sure, to make a handful of months before the general election; it will undoubtedly help him with a broad and influential sector of voters, while hurting him with others. These considerations were surely part of the political calculations made before making his stance on the issue public.
But what I find most interesting is how slow but steady pressure from the LGBT community drove the president to complete his process of evolution by embracing same-sex marriage, despite the political risk.
If only Obama would also evolve on the question of what to do with the DREAMers. If only, in the absence of federal legislation, he would decide to grant them broad administrative relief-as a group-that would allow them to study and work legally in the United States without fear of deportation.
Pressure to do so continues to increase-not only from pro-immigrant groups and from the DREAMers themselves, who, seeing that the promise of comprehensive immigration reform has disintegrated, have begun to ask for administrative relief in its place, but now from at least one Republican as well. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, widely considered a potential running mate to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is preparing to introduce his own version of the DREAM Act-which the senator calls a “humanitarian mission.”
Rubio’s already explained that the bill won’t create a new, direct path to citizenship for DREAMers. But he nonetheless has assured the press that DREAMers will be able to
pursue legal status through existing mechanisms.
Whether the bill will gain any traction during an election year is yet to be seen. Rubio still has to convince his Republican colleagues, who have overwhelmingly turned their backs on the bill-even those who once supported or even co-authored versions of it. And the Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, has already warned that passing Rubio’s DREAM Act would be “difficult at best.”
Regardless of its prospects, the idea that it’s a Republican who’s currently leading efforts to find consensus on a bill that enjoys overwhelming support from Latino voters should send a strong signal to Democrats in Congress and the White House-and on the Obama reelection campaign.
Meanwhile, however, ICE waits for no man-or bill. Deportation is still a real and threatening possibility for the DREAMers. In theory, the government’s new policy of “prosecutorial discretion” instructs immigration officials not to make DREAMers a deportation priority, but the implementation has proved much more complicated. Cases
of young people caught up in deportation proceedings continue to emerge, and only sustained media campaigns on their behalf prevent them from becoming just another statistic in the government’s annual deportation figures.
I understand the differences between the political considerations involved in endorsing same-sex marriage and giving relief to DREAMers. The LGBT community has powerful lobbying groups and rich donors advocating on its behalf-not to mention the fact that most of its members are citizens and potential voters.
Undocumented young people can neither vote themselves, nor add much to a campaign’s war chest.
But remember: Hispanic young people do have the support of a community of relatives, friends and acquaintances who do vote and donate to campaigns-and who are part of a voter bloc that will be key to Obama’s reelection efforts.
And like same-sex marriage, their cause is also a question of principles. These young people had no part in their parents’ decision to bring them to the United States without papers. They’ve been raised here. They are Americans in everything but paperwork. All they want is the opportunity to join the professional world and serve their country.
This Thursday, May 17th, the DREAMers will conduct a National Day of Action around the country. They will press for a solution to their dilemma and present a Declaration of Rights: among them, the right to live with their loved ones without fear.in the armed forces.
I hope that the president understands the importance of finding an administrative solution to the immigration limbo these young people face while Congress discusses the legislation that will determine their future.
22 Democratic senators have already sent a letter to the president asking him to consider offering “deferred action” or a suspension of deportation to all undocumented young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act if it passes.
In an interview with Jorge Ramos on Al Punto, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that “There’s more the President is going to do administratively. And that should happen fairly quickly.”
With any luck, Obama will also evolve to embrace the dream of millions of undocumented young people, and grant them administrative relief.