Members of Massachusetts immigrant groups await President Barack Obama’s immigration reform, a topic a number of officials considered overdue.
While the DREAM Act marked one of Obama’s most important steps toward reform, it most recently failed to pass through the Senate in 2010.
Congress has continually debated, updated and revised versions of the act that would have granted citizenship to illegal immigrants who meet certain standards.
Individuals who qualify for citizenship through the act must have entered the country under the age of 16, lived in the U.S. for five continuous years and graduated from a U.S. high school, along with other criteria, according to a document on the White House website.
Although a number of supporters were relieved when Obama announced his plan to halt the deportation of younger undocumented immigrants in June, the president has come under increased criticism for a lack of immigration reform.
Just one week after his reelection, Obama spoke about the necessity to implement new immigration policy.
In his first press conference since reelection on Nov. 14, Obama said “we need to seize the moment” for immigration reform, announcing that he would introduce a bill shortly after his inauguration.
Sandra Yu, Youth Effect leader for the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts, said it is still necessary to be skeptical of any reform, given the previous actions of the Obama administration.
“At the beginning of his previous term he promised to work for serious immigration reform as well,” she said. “It will be crucial to see if he makes more progress this time around.”
Young immigrants who are directly affected by the DREAM Act are contributing the most pressure for Obama’s promise of reform, said Laura González, youth organizer for the Latino immigrant organization Centro Presente.
“There is real possibility that these kids will have an opportunity to become self-sufficient citizens through the military or higher education,” González said. “It would set up a path of improvement in their lives that they would not have gotten in their native countries, which is what they need.”
While the DREAM Act has the support of young immigrants, a number of older people who have come to the U.S. to seek asylum from religious or political persecution look to what the promise of reform can do for them as well.
Abdi Barre, a 24-year-old Somali refugee, escaped from ongoing political tension in his country with his family and came to Boston in 2009, where he worked with the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center to acclimate to his new community.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is his next goal, he said.
“[Being] a U.S. citizen, I can provide for my family much better,” Barre said. “I want to be able to freely work and vote as a citizen. I believe Obama will be able to make the process better for immigrants in his next years as president.”
Isabelle Abed, Immigration and Displacement volunteer for the Islamic Center of New England, said immigrants from the Middle East in particular seek refuge in the U.S. for political and religious reasons.
She said Obama’s administration needs to make sure immigration reform is achieved in the next four years.
“These issues of immigration need to be resolved sooner rather than later,” Abed said. “Reforms have been promised in the past and we haven’t really seen any of it put into place.”
Abed said Obama’s plans would make great progress if they were put into action.
“We have to keep working to see these changes through, but I know they can take time,” she said. “It was on the agenda for the last four years, but not much got done. These four years will bring significant improvements though.”