Obama’s Influence on the Battle over Immigration Reform

The battle over immigration reform has reached a boiling point.

Obama Immigration ReformDuring his presidency, Barack Obama has promised to act on his long-term efforts to reform the country’s immigration policies, and did so by announcing a controversial executive order on November 20, 2014. Obama has been quoted as saying, “I believe that America is a nation of immigrants. Everybody agrees that the system is broken; there has been ample opportunity for Congress to pass a bipartisan immigration bill that would strengthen our borders, improve the legal immigration system and lift millions of people out of the shadows, so that they are paying taxes and getting right by the law.” However, despite America’s “200 year history” of welcoming immigrants, the system has broken down in the last couple of decades.

The debate, now dominating the media, began during his presidency on June 15, 2012, when President Obama created a new policy calling for deferred action for certain undocumented young people, who came to the U.S. as children. The “Dream Act”, also known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) was implemented on August 15, 2012, and those affected are appropriately called the “Dreamers”

Although the Dream Act did not create legalization and citizenship, it did, at the very least, initiate important opportunities for some the country’s young undocumented immigrants. Some of the concessions granted include allowing young people to remain in the country without fear of deportation and obtain work permits, which inevitably increases their chances for economic and social incorporation. Many are now afforded the same rights as other aspiring young people such as opening their first bank account, obtaining their first credit card and landing their first professional job.

However, there are many restrictions which exclude the country’s youth from possible deportation including the requirement of entering the U.S. before the age of 16, being under the age of 31 before June 15, 2012, being present in the U.S. for 5 years, graduating from high school or obtaining a GED, being accepted to college and having good “moral character.” Finally, it in no way addressed the constant threat of deportation of their immediate family.

Critics of immigration reform are often quoted as saying, “But who will pay for all these people to stay in our country.” However, they fail to recognize that undocumented immigrants have long contributed to the success of state economies.

Some of the highlights of Obama’s recent historic executive order are as follows:

  • There has been massive exploitation of undocumented immigrants by low pay, but because of the risk of being torn apart from their families, they comply. Additionally, the companies who are paying living wages, are strained by the competition, and will inevitably succumb to these unethical practices.
  • Since his presidency, Obama has worked extensively to secure the southern border with more agents and security than ever in history. For example, in the past 6 years, illegal border crossings has been cut down by more than half.
  • Instead of resorting to an executive action, Obama attempted to work with Congress. In fact, 68 democrats, republicans and independents came together to pass a bipartisan act which would have doubled security agents and allowed undocumented immigrants to stay if they paid a fine, paid taxes and went to back of the line This would have help grow the economy and decrease the deficit. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives refused to allow the bill to pass, despite the constant criticism from the far right on Obama’s efforts to fix the economic disaster, which almost placed the country into a recession before he was even elected.

As Obama explained, deporting millions of undocumented immigrants is not good for the country and far from realistic.  He pointed out that they work hard, support their families with significantly lower wages than equally qualified citizens, worship in community churches, are largely patriotic and most of their children already live in the U.S., many of which are citizens.  In fact, former President Bush, who is very conservative, was quoted as saying immigrants are “part of American lives.” However, there are restrictions to Obama’s order which, contrary to public opinion, actually satisfy most of the concerns from the conservative opposition. The following are the main provisions of the order:

  • Increased resources at the border, with more security.
  • Implementation of a process to make it easier and faster for high skilled immigrants and business entrepreneurs to stay in the country (which big business leaders support.)
  • Immigration laws that are broken, which result in those responsible being held accountable, including the deportation of felons, criminals and gang members, as opposed to families, children and single mothers.
  • The requirements to avoid deportation are an immigrant must be in the country for 5 year, have children who are American citizens or legal residents, register, pass a criminal check and pay taxes.
  • Undocumented immigrants must not enter illegally from this point forward.

In my opinion, the executive order is far from perfect. It gives too many concessions to those who oppose equality. Nonetheless, legal challenges to the order will no doubt be brought by republican controlled Congress, including threats of impeachment constantly looming over the president (especially by the House Speaker John Boehner). Therefore, many of the details of any executive order will be vulnerable to court action. Additionally, Congress will inevitably threaten a government shutdown, mirroring the one that rocked the nation in 2013, which focused on the republicans desire to defund the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. However, Obama remains defiant in the face of such threats and was steadfast in his promise to take action. Hopefully, the opposition will see the light and allow the country to grow and prosper, while staying true to equality for all.

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