Last Friday was both a surprise and relief to thousands in Chelsea who are in the United States illegally and without documentation.
In the Rose Garden at the White House, President Barack Obama announced a unilateral policy decision to stop pursuing the deportation of most young illegal immigrants. He went even further to say that these young illegal immigrants will – sometime within the next 60 days – be able to apply for educational visas, work permits and other official designations.
“They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one – on paper,” he said referring to the immigrants that will be affected by his plan. However, he stressed that that the move is “not amnesty” and that he believes Congress should still pass a comprehensive immigration bill.
In Chelsea, this wide-ranging news hit home with thousands of residents.
It is estimated that the announcement effected 800,000 people nationwide, and at least 2,000 in Chelsea, who will all now be able to apply to stay in the U.S. legally and to secure work permits. One noteworthy thing, though, is that the rules are not permanent.
Chelsea officials in City government and in the School Department are scrambling now to get the full gist of just what this means for thousands of young people in the City – as it is a dramatic shift in the status quo and one that has failed repeatedly to get support from Congress in the form of the DREAM Act.
However, may in Chelsea, initially, don’t seem to have the same reservations as Congress has had for the past several years.
“I have interacted with many undocumented kids who are trying to better themselves,” said City Manager Jay Ash. “They are here for no fault of their own and it is unfair and unjust to punish them for decisions made by others. I believe that good kids who happen to be without documentation deserve a path for them to grow and continue to be productive members of society. I applaud the Obama administrations policy change.”
School Superintendent Mary Bourque said that her office has been reading over the information published by the Department of Homeland Security, and that the School Committee plans to have a community meeting on the matter in September.
“I think it is important for us to keep in mind that many of our students, especially those who came here when they were infants, are culturally American,” said Bourque. “They love the Red Sox, they played or were cheerleaders for Pop Warner, they march as Girl Scouts in our Memorial Day parade. They should be given a chance to become citizens since they are more a citizen of the U.S. than of the country their parents came from. This is what Congress is trying to sort out, and the rule allows more time for a permanent solution to be put into place. The time is right to have the discussion and the time has come to figure it all out.”
As far as the schools are concerned, Bourque said that having a more secure status would help young people be able to attend college and to secure better-paying jobs.
“Our teachers and guidance counselors will be able to have open and honest conversations with students and their families much earlier in the student’s educational career about options to college and/or career,” she said. “Our teachers and guidance counselors will be able to build college readiness for all students by removing the barrier to higher education; students will be able to pursue better paying jobs that can also be aligned to their career aspirations rather than forced to work ‘under the table.’”
She also said it could mean fewer dropouts from Chelsea High by those who are here illegally.
“In the future, after much education and trust building with our students and families, I see a decrease to the number of students dropping out of Chelsea High School,” she said. “Many of our immigrant students enroll in Chelsea High School to learn basic English and then choose to leave high school early for work; again, work that is ‘under the table’ with little future. The change in regulations will incentivize our immigrant students to stay in high school and graduate. The value’ of the high school diploma will increase and aspirations can be built.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who has written that immigrants who were brought into US illegally as children “lacked the intent to violate the law,” has already outlined the new policy. A Napolitano memo on the subject said the government would not pursue illegal immigrants who met the following criteria:
•came to the US at the age of 16 or below.
•are 30 years of age or below.
•are currently enrolled in school, have graduated, or served in the military. •have been in the country continuously for five years and posses no criminal record.
The process is set to begin in the next 60 days.