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Obama gives hope to Ariz.’s immigrant youth

Valeria Fernandez | 6/20/2012, 9:59 a.m.

PHOENIX — President  Barack Obama’s announcement Friday that he would halt deportations of undocumented youth and give them a work permit offered a sign of hope for students in Arizona, who are awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on SB 1070, a bill that criminalizes them.

“This is a very concrete step that will offer relief to undocumented youth,” said Daniel Rodríguez, an organizer from the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition (ADAC).

But Rodríguez, 26, cautioned that the “devil is in the details.” And he warned that even as the announcement brings hope, it also creates a climate that could make people vulnerable to con artists who could try to take advantage of them.

Rodríguez warned a group of young people who gathered in Phoenix to hear the president’s speech that they should beware of anyone who offered services in connection with this new policy.

“Our community needs to be ready,” he said. “Don’t let yourself or your family be victims of fraud.”

Obama’s new policy — which bypasses Congress — would benefit students who can prove they came to the country before the age of 16 and are not older than 30. They must have graduated from high school or have a GED.

“It makes no sense to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are Americans,” Obama said. “They have been raised as Americans, understand themselves to be part of this country.”

While the change won’t grant access to citizenship to these young people, many see it as a positive step forward.

“Now we need to focus on working on our parents, who also need relief,” said Dulce Matuz, another member of ADAC in Arizona, who was recently declared one of the 100 most influential people by TIME Magazine for her activist work.

Matuz, 27, heard the news just as she and other undocumented youth were protesting outside an immigration detention center in Los Angeles, where several undocumented youth were being held for deportation.

She said she hoped the Obama administration would keep its promise, unlike the June 2011 memo to use prosecutorial discretion to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants who had ties to the community and no criminal record. The memo has served as a guideline, but critics say it has not been implemented adequately in practice, and that prosecutorial discretion in itself is difficult to oversee or review.

“I hope this is different,” Matuz said.

The shift in policy announced last Friday represents the most significant step taken related to immigration policy in the country in the last decade. It is also a first victory for the DREAMers, the activist youth who have been pushing for passage of the DREAM Act, a federal bill that would provide a path to legalization for qualifying undocumented youth who are enrolled in college or the military.

“There’s no doubt that this administration has turned a page and it’s willing to write the next chapter of the immigration debate,” said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress. “At the end of the day, Congress needs to stop hiding behind its desk.”