I applaud the courage, passion, and commitment of the DREAM 9. And I am thrilled that they are no longer in immigration detention.

But while I stand with them in their effort to achieve immigration reform I do not agree that self-deporting and then seeking to return was a wise move.

First, from a purely technical legal perspective, self-deporting from the U.S. subjected the DREAM 9 to the danger of irreparable legal damage. The bottom line is that in the vast majority of cases there is no legal remedy for an undocumented person who leaves the U.S. and attempts to return. True, all 9 DREAMERs have, thankfully, been released from custody. But they are hardly out of legal jeopardy. They are now each burdened with the task of proving to an immigration judge that they fear persecution or torture if they are returned to Mexico. Statistics show that the vast majority of Mexican asylum claims are denied. 

The DREAM 9, perhaps unwittingly, created an opportunity for people like nativist lawyer Kris Kobach to cynically question the true motives of those that seek to find solutions to America’s broken immigration system.

- David Leopold

More importantly, self-deporting and attempting to return under the glare of the media spotlight, as the DREAM 9 did, might tend to incorrectly suggest to others that legal remedies do exist for those that self-deport, encouraging them to follow suit. But that’s not the case. Once an undocumented person departs the U.S. without proper papers all bets are off. Attempting to return—even legally—can, in some cases, result in severe legal consequences, including even criminal prosecution. 

Third, the DREAM 9 protest, while a demonstration of courage and commitment to the plight of the victims of America’s badly dysfunctional immigration system, seemed designed to take the pressure off of an intransigent House GOP leadership which refuses to consider the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate earlier this year.

Would it not have made more sense to focus pressure on those members of the House of Representatives who, against the wishes of the American people, reject bipartisan calls for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented aspiring Americans? Why not call out Speaker Boehner and his GOP leadership lieutenants who have allowed their House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committee chairs to spend the better part of the summer doing little more than pushing anti-immigrant legislation—like Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) bill to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process which give DREAMERs a temporary reprieve from deportation while Congress gets to work passing immigration reform. Why not ask House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) why he refused to give a direct answer when asked by Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace whether he was committed to a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants and why he chose instead to hide behind classic Washington-speak, “We will have a vote on a series of bills at some point”, Cantor said, “And it will deal with a variety of issues.”

Fourth, the DREAM 9’s border exercise could have dangerously played into the hands of anti-immigrant restrictionists; those who trade in hate and fear, and who will stop at nothing to defeat real immigration reform. The DREAM 9, perhaps unwittingly, created an opportunity for people like nativist lawyer Kris Kobach –who thankfully recently failed in his nasty bid to have DACA declared unconstitutional– to cynically question the true motives of those that seek to find solutions to America’s broken immigration system.

I strongly support the hopes and aspirations of the DREAM 9 and all other aspiring and future Americans to build a fair and just immigration system which includes a reasonable road to citizenship for the undocumented living in America’s shadows. But at this moment in the historic struggle for immigration reform, I believe our energy, passion and commitment to making America the best it can be must be aimed at getting Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans to work toward sending President Obama a comprehensive immigration reform bill that he can sign into law.

David Leopold is the former national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and currently practices immigration law in Cleveland, Ohio. His Twitter handle is @DavidLeopold.

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