National Beat Reporter
President Obama outlined an executive action on immigration in an address to the nation on Nov. 20. The plan is intended to fix the country’s lackluster immigration system by making it easier for highly skilled immigrants to remain in the country while taking steps to deal with the millions already in the United States illegally.
Obama outlined three points of focus in his speech. The first involves increasing border security by committing more resources for law enforcement personnel at the border. The second makes it easier and more efficient for “high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy.” And finally, the third deals with the millions of immigrants already in the country illegally. The President elaborated mainly on this third point.
In an effort to re-prioritize the immigration system, the President’s executive action urges a targeted focus on deporting undocumented criminals and other immigrants who do not meet a certain set of criteria. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids,” said Obama in his speech.
If an undocumented immigrant has been in the United States for at least five years or has children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, they would be able to apply for “deferred action.” Deferred action means they would have to pay a fee and go through a background check, and if cleared, they could avoid deportation by being granted temporary residency.
These rules do not apply to anyone who has arrived in the United States recently, or to anyone who will be arriving in the country illegally in the future. These actions do not grant citizenship, nor do they offer the same benefits as citizens; it simply offers temporary residency and relief from the threat of deportation. Only Congress has the authority to pass legislation that grants citizenship or permanent legal residency to undocumented immigrants.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, as many as 3.7 million undocumented immigrants will gain protection from deportation. With the amount of undocumented people protected under the current deferred action program, a total of about 5.2 million people would benefit from the President’s plan, nearly half of the total 11.4 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.
The President’s announcement did not come as a surprise, as he has postponed making any major announcements on immigration until after the midterm elections. His rationale for announcing this executive action now is a lack of congressional action.
A bipartisan bill was introduced to Congress in April 2013 and was passed by the Senate in June of the same year. The bill, S.744: The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, has languished in the House since then and has not been scheduled for a vote. Obama argued that this almost year-and-a-half delay has come at the expense of the U.S. economy and undocumented immigrants who fear deportation, either for themselves or a loved one.
Obama has faced much criticism from Congressional Republicans, who argue that the President is acting outside of his jurisdiction and abusing his executive powers. His announcement has also been met with hesitation from immigrant rights groups, who argue that the President’s executive action does not go far enough or help as many undocumented immigrants as it should, and that many undocumented immigrants will still be deported as a result.
Obama traveled to Las Vegas on Nov. 21 to make the case for his immigration policy. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 17.7% of students in Nevada’s schools have at least one parent who is in the country illegally. “We’re going to keep on working with members of Congress to make permanent reform a reality. But until that day comes, there are actions that I have the legal authority to take that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just,” said Obama in a speech at a local high school.
Among the audience cheers and chants of “Si se puede!” Obama was occasionally interrupted by a heckler claiming that his plan does not go far enough. The President responded by saying, “Not everybody will qualify under this provision. That’s the truth. That’s why we’re still going to have to pass a bill… This is the first step. It’s not the only step. We’re still going to have to do more work.”