Dec. 3, 2012 -- If DREAMers get their way, the immigration reform debate in 2013 will be more focused on immigrant rights and less so on enforcement.
United We Dream, the largest network of undocumented youth in the country, rolled out its reform platform today, with a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants at the top of the list. The platform also called for the end of immigration enforcement programs like Secure Communities, which requires local police to share fingerprints of arrestees with federal immigration authorities.
Since the November election, where Latinos played a decisive role, immigration reform has been talked about as a potential way for Republicans to reach out to Latino voters and for Democrats to solidify Latino support.
"The mandate for immigration reform has never been more clear," said Lorella Praeli, the director of advocacy and policy for United We Dream.
DREAMers are seeking to define the parameters of the debate early. This weekend, more than 600 undocumented youth leaders from around the country met in Kansas City, Missouri, to put together the principles that they hope will guide the discussion.
The tone is decidedly different from principles put forth by Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham in a 2010 op-ed in the Washington Post -- the last bipartisan push on the issue. While a path to citizenship was part of their outline, so was increased border security, a new fraud-resistant Social Security card and a guest worker program.
The United We Dream platform presents a more immigrant rights-centered approach.
"Today is 2012," said Praeli. "The political realities are different and also the enforcement priorities are different."
One aspect of the United We Dream platform that stands out from past advocacy efforts is what the group calls "the ability to travel without fear." As with the rest of the platform, the statement doesn't get into policy specifics, but says that all immigrants should be able to obtain a driver's license and be able to travel outside the U.S. to visit family.
Part of the reason driver's licenses have come to the forefront is the murky immigration status now held by more than 50,000 DREAMers, a number that will keep increasing in coming months.
In June, President Barack Obama initiated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which extends deportation relief and work permits to qualifying young undocumented immigrants. Those approved for the program now have legal permission to live and work in the U.S., but it remains unclear whether they have the right to a driver's license. Arizona has denied licenses to DREAMers and now faces a lawsuit over the matter. On the other hand, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has said it will issue licenses to any immigrants who get an "employment authorization document" through the program.
But the central part of the platform is the commitment to legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants. That's a shift for DREAMers, who during past advocacy efforts have focused the discussion more on young people, says Patty Kupfer, the managing director at America's Voice, a group that lobbies for immigration reform.
"I think the most notable thing that came out of the conference is their consensus to broaden the narrative and shift the focus from themselves to bring their parents and communities into the narrative."