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2:57 am
Sat June 16, 2012

Is Deportation Freeze A 'Big Relief' Or 'Cynical Ploy'?

Originally published on Sat June 16, 2012 4:53 pm

At the University of California, Los Angeles, Labor Center in downtown L.A., more than 100 student leaders from around the country hugged and cheered as President Obama delivered his immigration announcement Friday.

Obama outlined a new policy to temporarily stop deporting some young illegal immigrants and make them eligible for work permits.

Diego Sanchez was born in Argentina and brought to Miami 12 years ago. He's working on getting his MBA. He welcomed the president's announcement.

"It's a big step, a big relief for our communities, especially as students," Sanchez says. "I'm not going to be thinking about what can happen if I get pulled over any more. Now you know that you can put your degree into work."

Students like Sanchez have been working for years to get Congress to pass the DREAM Act, to grant conditional residency to young people like them — brought to the U.S. as children. With the DREAM Act stalled, an increasing number of so-called "Dreamers" have gone public with their legal dilemma.

Cyndi Bendezu was born in Lima, Peru, and grew up in East L.A. She came here when she was 4 and has been undocumented for 23 years. She graduated from UCLA and is working on her master's degree at Columbia University.

"I know that we worked so hard for this, and I know Obama could do so much more," she says. "But I know this is an election year, and I know that he needs our votes. So I know what this is about: It's politics."

It's the politics — and timing — of Obama's announcement that has anti-immigrant groups riled up. Roy Beck, who heads the organization NumbersUSA, says Obama usurped power.

"[Congress] said no three times, and he goes, 'OK, I'll just do it on my own.' And he has stirred up a lot of new energy. Now he's made himself a huge target," Beck says.

The president's announcement also sparked much debate on the airwaves around the country. California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican, spoke out against the policy on NPR member station KPCC.

"I think this just is a cynical ploy to try to pander to illegals in order to somehow get votes," he said. "The problem is he's doing this at the expense of our kids who are out there looking for work right now."

Some of the students who could benefit from Obama's order remain skeptical about how it will be enforced. Mexican-born high school student Jahel Campos was among a half-dozen others staging a weeklong sit-in outside Obama's campaign headquarters in Culver City. She says the president's order doesn't go far enough.

"We want the executive order which is going to stop all of the deportations. I'm more worried about my parents. I'm not worried about myself," Campos says.

But for students like Bendezu, who hopes to earn her Ph.D. in political science, Obama's words brought validation, at least for now.

"We are the future of this country, and they need us. And our parents taught us that. And our parents have struggled and they've sacrificed everything," she says. "It's finally time for them to realize we're human and we have feelings. Because it's so inhumane how they treat us like we don't exist. And we do."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And in Los Angeles, NPR's Mandalit del Barco spoke about President Obama's new policy with undocumented students activists who gathered for a summer leadership workshop.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They are Americans in their heart, in their minds...

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: From UCLA's Labor Center in downtown L.A., more than 100 student leaders from around the country hugged and cheered as President Obama delivered his announcement on TV.

OBAMA: ...temporarily relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

BARCO: Diego Sanchez was born in Argentina and brought to Miami 12 years ago. He's working on getting his MBA. He welcomed the president's announcement.

DIEGO SANCHEZ: Yeah it's a big step, a big relief for our communities, especially as students. You know, I'm not going to be thinking about, you know, what can happen if I get pulled over anymore. You know, now you know that you can put your degree into work, you know, not just hang it in your wall. So now, at least you're sort of guaranteed, you know, I'm guaranteed that I'll be able to use that degree.

BARCO: Students like Sanchez have been working for years to get Congress to pass the DREAM Act, to grant conditional residency to young people like them, brought to this country as children. With the DREAM act stalled, an increasing number of so-called dreamers have gone public with their legal dilemma.

CINDY BENDEZU: I came here when I was 4, and I was undocumented for 23 years. So most of my life, you know, growing up that way.

BARCO: Cindy Bendezu was born in Lima, Peru, and grew up in East L.A. She graduated from UCLA, and is now working on her master's degree at Columbia University.

BENDEZU: But I know that we worked so hard for this. And I know that Obama could do much more. But I know this an election year, and I know that he needs our votes. So I know what this is about - politics.

BARCO: It's the politics and timing of Obama's announcement that has anti-immigrant groups riled up. Roy Beck, who heads the organization Numbers USA, says Obama usurped his power.

ROY BECK: They said no three times. And he goes, OK, I'll just do it on my own. And he had stirred up a lot of new energy. Now, he's made himself a huge target.

BARCO: The president's announcement also sparked much debate on the airwaves around the country. Here's California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican, on NPR member station KPCC.

ASSEMBLYMAN TIM DONNELLY: I think this just is a cynical ploy to try to pander to illegals in order to somehow get votes. The problem is he's doing this at the expense of our kids who are out there looking for work out right now. We have the highest unemployment since World War II for young people in this country.

BARCO: Some of those students who could benefit from Obama's order remain skeptical about how it will enforced. Mexican-born high school student Jael Campos was among a half dozen staging a week-long sit-in outside Obama's campaign headquarters in Culver City. She says the president's order doesn't go far enough.

JAEL CAMPOS: We want the executive order, which is going to stop all of the deportations. So I'm more worried about my parents. I'm not worried about myself.

BARCO: But for students like Cindy Bendezu, who hopes to earn her Ph.D. in political science, Obama's words brought validation, at least for now.

BENDEZU: We are the future of this country and they need us. And our parents taught us that. And our parents have struggled and they sacrificed everything. It's finally time for them to realize that we're human and we have feelings, 'cause it's so inhumane how they treat us - like we don't exist. And we do.

BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.