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‘Dreamers’ in Texas react with joy and hope over immigration immunity decision


The following is from the June 17, 2012, edition of The Huffington Post. Rick Halperin, director of SMU's Human Rights Program, provided expertise for this story.

June 18, 2012

By Yolanda Gonzalez-Gomez
The Huffington Post

The first reaction of professionals and undocumented students in Texas in regard to the federal decision to grant immigration immunity to the “dreamers” was of joy. They consider it “a great victory and first win” in their 10-year struggle in this state, which is the first approved law that allows them access to higher education.

For others, like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, President Obama’s announcement on Friday is “an election year tactic to circumvent Congress and arbitrarily grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, which is another example of his blatant disregard for our Constitution, our rule of law and our democracy.”

It was during Perry’s administration that Texas passed the Dream Act in 2001, which received strong attacks from his opponents in the campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. This law allows undocumented students who meet certain requirements to pay the same tuition as legal residents.

Texas has several generations of young undocumented graduates and students of state universities that have benefited from the Texas Dream Act, but they cannot work legally in this country.

“I cannot believe it yet; I'm so surprised. After waiting 10 years for something like this, it has huge value to me," said Rodolfo Salazar, who was brought from Mexico at age 9 by his mother and was part of the first generation of undocumented students to benefit from the Dream Act in Texas.

Without access to financial support, his mother paid for Salazar’s college tuition by working two jobs until he graduated in 2006. Since then he has survived with temporary jobs in computer repair and other trades. 

Salazar, 28, has a degree in finance from the University of Houston and this summer began pursuing a second degree in accounting there. 

“The immigration struggles have been a very painful journey for; they’ve been eating me alive with hopelessness. You suffer because you feel excluded from society where you grow up, despite being educationally, culturally and linguistically a part of this country,” he said.

After President Obama’s announcement, Julieta Garibay’s mother cooked a special meal to celebrate. Garibay, also a beneficiary of the first generation of Texas Dream Act, said when the news was announced, she and her mother hugged and cried with excitement. 

“It’s a great victory,” said Garibay, who has a Masters of Science degree in public health nursing from the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s also the first win, after many years of activism to achieve approval of the Dream Act, and it’s a sign that immigration reform is possible.”

Garibay says she and thousands of young people between the ages of 16 and 30 in Texas will benefit from this first step in immigration reform. “We will continue our activism and the struggle via our group United We Dream, but we will focus on educating and informing ‘Dreamers’ on how to safely make these reform measures work for them.”

Among top supporters of the announcement is the new leader of the Democratic Party of Texas, Gilberto Hinojosa. “President Obama changed the future of hundreds of thousands of Texans who were stuck in legal limbo,” Hinojosa said, noting that now, young immigrants can “come out of the shadows, practice their professions and contribute to our economy.”

The Democratic state leader criticized Republicans trying to prevent change, and particularly referred to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who “has the most extreme position of any presidential candidate in history,” he said. 

Hinojosa said he hoped that members of Congress follow the lead of President Obama and approve the Dream Act to enable a more permanent solution to the “dreamers.”

Also, Rick Halperin, a human rights expert and Southern Methodist University professor who has twice been board chair of Amnesty International USA, warned that Alabama and Arizona could obstruct or delay the federal decision announced by President Obama.

Halperin said that in these states, Latino immigrants are perceived as not even deserving a chance. But when state laws conflict with federal policy, federal laws will prevail.

“The intention of many to limit or prohibit immigration to this country is a striking paradox, since we are a nation of immigrants, one of the most amalgamated melting pots in the world,” the professor said. 

Halperin noted that as the United States becomes less white, “it’s the people of wealth and power, who are mostly white, who are the most vocal about curtailing immigration. They believe they have the most to lose from an America turning less white and more educated.”

The Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA) said the federal decision announced Friday was the result of activism and pressure by this country’s young immigrants. They stressed, however, that real immigration reform includes a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, and that remains the only solution to the immigration problem in America.

"The undocumented youth and their allies in RITA will hold President Obama accountable for these new measures,” the RITA said in prepared statement.

For his part, Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement noting that the Obama administration “has failed to secure the border, which is essential to national security. Instead [President Obama] is offering amnesty to those who have broken our laws.” Perry said that President Obama should work with Congress and the American people for a sustainable, long-term solution.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also balked at the president’s announcement, saying via Twitter that “Obama has evolved on marriage and immigration, what will evolve next time?” He also asked his Twitter followers if they agreed with the president's decision “to halt the deportation of illegal immigrants.” 

Republican candidates running for election to the Texas Senate expressed their opposition to the measure as well.

Ted Cruz [who notes on his website that his family came to the U.S. from Cuba penniless and unable to speak English, but worked hard to help him attend Princeton] called it a “cowardly policy, unlawful and wrong.” Cruz insisted that “there is a crisis in illegal immigration and the federal government must be serious about securing our borders. This latest policy is nothing more than an intention to open a back door to amnesty, and I strongly I oppose amnesty.”

His Republican opponent, David Dewhurst, deputy governor of Texas, also said that “President Obama’s decision to grant work permits to illegal immigrants who arrived as children is nothing less than blatant maneuver for backdoor amnesty by executive decree.”

He added that passage of this reform “sets a dangerous precedent for future debates on important issues” and recommended to President Obama that “instead of participating in election-year gimmicks, he should follow the rules of law and secure our borders, something that his administration has failed to do. 

In Texas, universities and colleges reported that 16,476 students in 2010 applied for permanent U.S. citizenship, which represents about 1 percent of the total student population enrolled in institutions of higher education in the state, according to official data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.