“Why Don’t Dreamers Just Get Legal?”
I hear this question a lot. It often comes from those opposed to legislation benefitting young Immigrant Dreamers who were brought here illegally as children. The insinuation (sometimes blatantly), is that if the Dreamers are too careless, lazy, and unconcerned to apply for legal status and citizenship after all this time, then why should we help them now? The question really doesn’t make sense, but I’ve seen many use it as a “gotcha” type question, as though no one ever thought, “Hmmm, why don’t I just go to the Post Office and apply for legal residency status?”
Honestly, that is what I thought they were able to do. Prior to around 2011 or so, my whole perspective on any illegal immigrants who were here in America was that they just needed to go home. God love them and all, and we will pray for them and share Jesus with them as they leave, but they need to get right with the law and go home. I had given that perspective around 30 seconds of thought, but I was rock solid in it. It just made sense at the time with my limited understanding of what was happening.
But, in the back of my mind, I just assumed there was a way for people to apply for legal status (a Green Card), if they really wanted to. The Dreamers who were brought here as babies could probably just go to the Post Office or Probate Office and apply for legal status when they turned 18, right? I mean, they were brought here as kids and didn’t choose to come here. THEY weren’t guilty of breaking any laws because they were kids, so, surely there was a way for them to get legal if they would take it. Right?
Nope. I was wrong.
If a baby is brought in to this country at 2 months 0ld and he grows up here, there is basically no way for him to apply for legal permanent residency (LPR) status unless there is an extreme circumstance, because he came here illegally. Without the President Obama-era program initiated via Executive Action in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA (that was discontinued last September 5th), young people like my friend and fellow Southern Baptist, Jose Ocampo, would not be able to work, go to school, or create a prosperous future. DACA gave work authorization and deferred deportation, but it did not provide legal status. On March 5th, the protections begin to run out and thousands of people a week will lose their DACA ability to work and the protection from deportation.
But, the question was, “Why don’t they just get legal?” The answer is, “They can’t.”
There’s a lot of stuff online explaining this. Just Google the question. But, one well written article is by the Minnesota reporter, Heather Brown, entitled, “Why Can’t Dreamers Just Apply for Citizenship?” She explains the process well:
There are three ways to get permanent resident status in the U.S.:
- A person can be admitted as a refugee or apply for asylum.
- An eligible employer can sponsor a person.
- A close family member seeks permission to bring someone in (the most common way).
But, these options rarely apply to Dreamers. And, if you ever entered the country illegally – even if you were brought here by others as a one year old – then you have to leave America for 10 years before you can return with a proper visa, IF you can get one. There is no exception for those brought here as young children. Their unlawful entry is treated the same as a 25 year old making a conscious decision.
In Mexico, the legal line to come to America is 25-40 years long now. So, there effectively IS no line for Dreamers to get into and no way for them to “get legal” unless they were to leave the only country they know where they grew up and go to a foreign country where they were born and perhaps have few resources. It wasn’t always this way, by the way. The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act changed all of that and made it virtually impossible for immigrants who had been here illegally to “get right with the law” without having to self-deport first. For some, this might be the correct response. But, for those who were brought here, grew up here, married, and now have U.S. citizen children who were born here, that option becomes incredibly difficult. Many have nowhere to go.
So, my friends Liz, Jose, Alonzo, Lisbeth, Eric, and Diana did not just ignore the Law or were too lazy to apply to “get legal.” They were brought here as children (one was 2 months old when his parents brought him) and there is no way for them to get legal (unless there are extreme circumstances) – short of leaving the United States for at least a decade and applying from the country listed on their birth certificate. That is not a solution. This state of affairs is why so many are pushing for a permanent legislative solution for the DACA/Dreamer situation. Ultimately, it is Congress’ job to solve this and millions are asking them to.
Whatever your opinion on the issue, we should at least try to deal with the real situation. That situation is that unless Dreamer legislation is passed, these young immigrants who benefitted from DACA will lose their work authorization, many will have to drop out of school, and all of them will be subject to deportation. They didn’t choose to come to this country, but now that they have grown up here, many have nowhere to go. How they are treated now reflects on who we are as a people. As we make that decision, let’s work to understand the reality of the problem before us.
For further reading:
A significant number of SBC and Evangelical pastors and leaders put out a statement last Fall called the Evangelical Leader Statement on Dreamers. It is a remarkable document signed by SBC pastors and leaders like Jack Graham, Ronnie Floyd, and Russell Moore. I suggest a thorough reading. But, one part that stood out was this paragraph:
We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit. We recognize that Dreamers are a special category of immigrants because they broke no law and committed no offense. How we treat this category of immigrants is therefore not just a policy or political issue—it is a moral issue. Subjecting Dreamers to deportation or lives of perpetual insecurity in the shadows of our communities is an offense to the rule of law and to the purpose of government, which is for the good of people.
I’d agree with that statement.