It was a watershed week for Maryland's “Dreamers”—a week that brought the first step toward temporary reprieve for more than 1,000 illegal immigrants brought to the country as children, and another step for an immigrant youth movement that is gaining steam as voters stare down a November referendum on in-state tuition for undocumented students.
Casa de Maryland, the state’s largest immigrant advocacy group, led a push to get more than 1,000 applicants to Langley Park and Baltimore on Wednesday and Thursday for the onset of President Obama's program to give certain illegal immigrants a two-year shield against being deported.
Announced in June, Obama’s “deferred action” program applies to illegal immigrants who:
- came to the United States when they were younger than 16,
- have lived in the U.S. for at least five years,
- are 30 years old or younger, and
- have never been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanor offenses or pose a threat to national security.
They must also meet one of these conditions:
- be enrolled in school,
- have graduated from high school (or earned a GED), or
- were honorably discharged from the U.S. military.
Organizers of the Langley Park and Baltimore clinics estimate some 10,000 people in Montgomery County are eligible. Nationally, the count approaches 2 million, reported USA Today.
Advocates and applicants celebrated the long-awaited measure this week across the country—even though applicants’ long-term status remains unclear because the policy could be revoked by a new president or by an act of Congress, reported the Huffington Post.
That celebration was nonetheless effusive Friday night at a five-hour concert in downtown Silver Spring. The concert marked a crystallizing moment for the JSA Movement, which has rallied thousands of immigrant youths hoping to tilt November's Dream Act referendum in their favor.
JSA sprung to life after the near-deportation of Germantown teen Jorge Steven Acuña, whom federal agents seized with his parents in March and then released amid community outcry and political intervention.
The movement quickly turned its focus to Maryland’s version of the Dream Act, which would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition if they graduated from a state high school and their families pay state taxes, among other requirements.
Gov. Martin O’Malley ratified the Dream Act in May. Opponents promptly mounted a petition drive that has put the issue on the ballot this fall.
The movement, which now goes by the moniker “Justice for Students in America,” is determined to win the referendum with its grassroots, youth-driven campaign. JSA has amassed more than 2,000 supporters on Facebook and nearly 10,000 followers on Twitter.
“JSA has pretty much not only inspired the local community, politicians, city and county council members and state’s attorneys, we have also infiltrated the schools and reached out to the rising voters that are going to be voting in the upcoming election, getting them involved,” said Francisco Cartagena, one of JSA’s founding members.
With the start of school approaching, JSA plans to ratchet up its efforts to draw even more young immigrants into the political fold.
“What we plan on doing is branching out to high schools and community colleges and continue the voter registrations and get them to understand what these politicians are saying, and essentially to hold them accountable once they are elected,” said Cartagena.