Leaders of the American Jewish Committee applauded as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) urged hundreds of young immigrants to register for work permits and deportation deferrals under President Obama’s new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
The permits will allow young undocumented immigrants to continue working or studying in the United States, providing they meet certain criteria.
“These young men and women, through no choice of their own, were brought to the United States by their parents, who made the decision for them,” said Menendez speaking — in English and Spanish — Aug. 15 in the crowded auditorium of Union County College in Elizabeth.
“The time has come to develop the talent that all of our young people have to offer,” continued Menendez. “This will allow thousands of young men and women who are kept from enrolling in colleges and universities to achieve their full potential, ultimately being full participants in American life and full contributors to the American economy.”
An entourage of AJC staff and lay leaders joined Menendez at the event to support the work permits. Like the senator, they consider it a first step in helping the estimated 1.8 million young people who came to the United States as the sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants.
“We see that as a human right issue and a Jewish issue,” John Rosen, executive director of the AJC’s Metro New Jersey Region, told NJJN. “Most of our ancestors were immigrants who had to deal with these same issues. We also see it from a practical point of view in building relationships with Latinos and other immigrant communities.”
The guarantees came about through an administrative declaration in June by Obama after Congress failed to pass any immigration reform legislation.
The applicants must have lived in the United States for the past five years, be under age 31, and have high school diplomas and no felony convictions.
If their applications are approved, the young immigrants will be allowed to remain in the United States legally for two years, and to reapply for a renewal of their status at the end of the two years.
The administrative edict falls far short of the Dream Act, a bill backed by Menendez and the AJC that would give undocumented young people legal residency and a pathway to citizenship after they complete college or military service. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives, and blocked in the Senate by a bipartisan filibuster in December 2010.
“Let’s be clear,” Menendez said. “We still need to pass the Dream Act.”
‘Two young dreamers’
Following his speech, the senator introduced “two young dreamers” who have been working for immigration reforms. They were Selenne Galvez, a 17-year-old senior at Passaic High School, and Marisol Conde-Hernandez, a Rutgers University graduate and immigration rights activist.
Born in Mexico, Conde-Hernandez said, “I have no conscious memory of being brought over. My entire life has been in New Jersey.”
In response to a question from NJJN at a news conference following the event, Menendez said the Deferred Action Work Permits could be canceled if presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney unseats Obama in November.
“Anything that is administratively given can be administratively taken away, so the answer is ‘yes,’” said Menendez, adding, “I would find it incredibly difficult to believe that if the projected numbers of immigrants from all over the country come forward and apply — which would be anywhere between hundreds of thousands and one million — it would be so easy for a future administration to do that.”
He added that Romney has pledged to veto the Dream Act.
Although he has not taken a stand on the Deferred Action program, Menendez’s Republican opponent for reelection, State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Dist. 13), said he favors some immigration reform.
In a televised interview in March, Kyrillos told News 12 Hudson County that he supported “elements” of the Dream Act and that “folks that are here, that came here as young children before they learned English, Spanish, or anything else,” should be dealt with “in a responsible and sensitive way.”