Undocumented youth pushing for changes to immigration policy hope to build on the momentum of President Barack Obama's inauguration this week and—in particular—the line from his speech that sent another public signal of his intentions to persuade Congress to provide a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States.
In his second inaugural address Monday, Obama said, "Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity—until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country." The line about "bright young students" was clearly a reference to nearly 1 million DREAMers, those undocumented immigrant youths who were brought to the U.S. as children and, because of their unlawful status, have largely been blocked from pursuing higher education opportunities and legal employment.
The president is expected—perhaps in the upcoming State of the Union address—to call on Congress to act on sweeping immigration reforms that would go well beyond the long-stalled DREAM Act, legislation that would create a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. Youth activists who want a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants and a halt to deportations are using the signals from the White House to build more support for their cause this week, hosting rallies, vigils, and call-in campaigns to members of Congress, according to United We Dream, a youth-led network pushing for immigration reforms.
In the meantime, undocumented youths continue to apply for relief from deportation and a shot at a legal work permit through the administration's deferred action policy. Last week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released new figures that show that more than 150,000 undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 have been approved for deferred action since the agency began reviewing applications in August.
The immigration agency also announced that any youths who are approved for deferred action are considered by federal authorities to be in the U.S. lawfully. That, said the agency, clears the way for many such undocumented immigrants to be eligible to obtain driver's licenses.