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Durbin, advocates praise Obama policy on young undocumented immigrants

Tribune reporter

Local immigrant advocates today praised the president’s order to halt the deportations of some young undocumented residents, though they remain hopeful that Congress will pass a comprehensive law providing a path to citizenship.

Alaa Mukahhal, 25, came to the U.S. legally with her parents in 1993, when she was 6, as they fled violence in Kuwait following the Gulf War.

When her visa expired, she stayed in Chicago. Despite earning an architecture degree from the University of Illinois, Mukahhal is facing deportation proceedings that started after she applied for asylum.

Now Mukahhal helps other immigrants become naturalized citizens and advocates for changes in immigration policy.

“As far as I’m concerned, growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I’m as American as they come,” Mukahhal said.

She has a temporary work permit while her case works through the court system.

Mukahhal praised Obama’s decision and is hopeful the new measures will help her earn temporary status and end her deportation proceedings.
“We understand this is a temporary move, but it’s an important step forward,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has sponsored as-of-yet unsuccessful DREAM Act Legislation in Congress for 11 years. While he still wants to pass that law and create a path to citizenship — something Obama’s order stops short of — he’s pleased that the decision will halt the deportations of some educated young immigrants.
It’s an important step, he said, because the full DREAM Act “isn’t going to pass in this Congress.”

But Obama’s policy is an executive order, which could be overturned by an act of Congress or a future president.

Durbin said he spoke with one young immigrant who was afraid that by coming out of the shadows now and announcing her presence to the government, she could be targeted should Obama’s program end.

“They’re afraid that once they turn in this information, it will become the list of the future for deportation,” Durbin said.

The senator is hopeful that, even if the policy is reversed, those who declare themselves in good faith now wouldn’t be unfairly targeted.

“If anyone in the future tries to use this against them, I think there will be a terrific backlash,” he said.

Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the executive order allows longtime U.S. residents to continue living in the only place they’ve ever known.

He’s hopeful that today’s order will pave the way for future, more comprehensive reforms.

“These students are American in every sense except the paperwork,” Benito said. “Today is just a beginning.”

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