A campaign calling for the release of nine Dreamers who left the United States and were arrested nearly a week ago when they tried to re-enter the country is gaining support from many people—but not from one immigration attorney who says the Dreamers pushed it too far.
“I just don’t agree with this,” said David Leopold, an immigration attorney from Ohio. “I think all it does is draw attention away from the real issue, which is that we do have a broken immigration system and that we do need Congress to fix it.”
Earlier this month, three Dreamers crossed the border into Mexico with the goal of coming back and bringing with them several other undocumented immigrants who either had to leave the U.S. or were deported recently. They say they did this as a way to protest the 1.7 million deportations that have occurred under the Obama administration.
Now, a campaign dubbed “Bring Them Home” is asking the Department of Homeland Security to allow the nine Dreamers—who are referred to as “DREAM9” on social media—to stay in the country. The Dreamers are currently detained in the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, where they’ve been on a hunger strike since Thursday after their phone use was restricted.
Nine Dreamers seek release
U.S. authorities have not responded to the Dreamers’ requests for release.
Margo Cowan, the attorney representing the nine Dreamers, told the Associated Press she put in a request for humanitarian parole, which she said would allow them entrance to the U.S. because “their presence in America will serve an important public interest.”
She also told AP that the Dreamers’ long-standing ties to the U.S. and their lack of cultural connection to Mexico should make them eligible for humanitarian parole. If that request is denied, the Dreamers are prepared to file an asylum claim.
But for Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, it appears unlikely that the three Dreamers who voluntarily left a few weeks ago will be granted humanitarian parole or asylum because he doesn’t think they qualify for any of the two petitions.
He said humanitarian parole is usually granted to people with “compelling” cases, such as a person with a medical emergency. As for asylum, he said it is only granted to people who can prove “well-founded fear of persecution” based on several traits such as gender, sexual orientation, political opinion, religion or nationality.
“Humanitarian parole is something that is used very sparingly — it has to be used very sparingly — and none of them qualify for it or for asylum from what I can tell,” he told VOXXI, referring to the three Dreamers who voluntarily left.
Impact on immigration reform efforts
In the case that DHS does allows the nine Dreamers to stay in the country, Leopold said he is worried about what it could mean for the immigration reform debate in Congress, which he described as “very delicate.”
He said allowing them to stay could give immigration hardliners “some ammunition” to say that pro-immigration reform advocates and the Obama administration are “for open borders … and for people who don’t care about our laws and don’t care about our rules.”
“Bottom line, I think this is a publicity stunt that doesn’t do anything to move the ball forward in terms of immigration reform,” he told VOXXI about the action by the nine Dreamers.
Leopold isn’t the only one who is expressing concerns. Several members of Congress have told the National Immigrant Youth Alliance — the group leading the “Bring Them Home” campaign — that their efforts could hurt the chances of passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. They’ve also noted that the recently-approved Senate immigration bill would already allow some people who’ve been deported to come back to the U.S.
But one member of Congress who is showing support for the nine Dreamers who are detained is Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who is part of a bipartisan House group working on an immigration reform bill. He sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday, asking for the release of the nine Dreamers. Next week, he plans to deliver a speech on the House floor to call for their release. A post on his Facebook page on Friday said:
“Like many of you, Congressman Gutiérrez does not agree with the DREAM 9′s tactics, but he believes that they — like all those deported without criminal records — should be able to return to their homes and their families in the United States.”
Responding to criticism
Mohammad Abdollahi, a Dreamer and a lead organizer of the campaign to release the nine Dreamers, was clear in his response to the criticism the Dreamers have received for their decision to re-enter the country.
He told VOXXI that rather than seeing the action by the nine Dreamers as something that could hurt the immigration reform debate — like Leopold and members of Congress argued — he said it is “a stepping stone” that could help propel the debate forward.
“I think this action, if nothing else, just reiterates the need for immigration reform,” he told VOXXI.
Responding to members of Congress who said the Senate immigration reform bill includes a provision to allow some deportees to come back, Abdollahi said, “Unfortunately, these people who have been deported can’t wait 10 years for legislation to pass.”
He said the end goal right now is to get all the Dreamers released so that they can reunite with their families in the U.S. He expressed confidence in achieving that goal. He also responded specifically to Leopold’s criticism, saying:
“He shouldn’t be speaking in the first place. Unfortunately, it’s not his place to say that this action goes too far because he is not undocumented.”
Leopold said though he is not undocumented, he is no stranger to the plight of Dreamers and the fight for immigration reform. When he was president of AILA, he worked with various immigrant youth-led organizations to stop the deportations of Dreamers.
“I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t support the Dreamers — I do, of course I do,” he told VOXXI. “What I don’t support is people being flippant about U.S. law and U.S. policy and putting their own personal interests ahead of millions and millions of others who are so desperately waiting for Congress to do something on immigration reform. That’s what bothers me here.”