By Cristina Kennedy
President Obama used his executive authority to grant millions of undocumented immigrants a work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings.
In order to qualify for this program, undocumented immigrants must have been in the United States for more than five years, have children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, register, pass a criminal-background check, and pay any back taxes and associated fines they may owe. More than 4 million people would be protected under this executive action.
From a White House fact sheet: “Individuals will have the opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for three years at a time if they come forward and register, submit biometric data, pass background checks, pay fees, and show that their child was born before the date of this announcement. By providing individuals with an opportunity to come out of the shadows and work legally, we will also help crack down on companies who hired undocumented workers, which undermines the wages of all workers, and ensure that individuals are playing by the rules and paying their fair share of taxes.”
U.S. Senator John Cornyn R-Texas said that the action would lead to additional flows of would-be illegal border crossers who interpret the president’s move as a sign that “it’s okay to come.”
Cornyn then added “As I said earlier, this is also a major boon to the cartels and other gangs who control Mexico’s smuggling networks. And it will almost certainly lead to thousands of people who’ve committed crimes in this country gaining legal status.”
Mr. Obama’s action means extensive changes for part of Texas’ 1.46 million undocumented immigrants according to the latest estimates by the Migration Policy Institute. There are about 11.4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
The executive order that Mr. Obama and his team have crafted could affect as many as 533,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas, which is about 40 percent of the state’s unauthorized population. Another 92,000 reside with children who are not citizens but could be in the country legally.
The executive action will certainly have an impact in El Paso. Immigration advocates that have studied the statistics estimate that up to 50,000 would benefit in the city.
In all, about 1.15 million of Texas’ undocumented immigrants have lived in the country for at least five years, including about 218,000 immigrants who have lived here for more than 20 years. They will not qualify for citizenship, however, since that would require Congressional action, the president said. If Congress passes a comprehensive immigration bill, he added, the actions he is taking would no longer be policy.
Under the plan, a 2012 initiative called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will also be expanded. That program provides younger undocumented immigrants a work permit and a two-year reprieve from deportation proceedings.
Currently, DACA applicants must have been in the U.S. continuously since June 2007 must have arrived in the country before they were 16 and must have been 30 or younger as of June 2012. The new policy is likely to broaden the pool of potential applicants by changing the arrival date to including people who arrived before January 2010. The relief will be available for three years instead of the current two.
As part of the plan, the president also announced that he will increase the availability of work visas for high-skilled workers educated in the United States.
Obama’s order also shifts additional resources to the border and establishes enforcement priorities designed to “increase the chances that anyone attempting to cross the border illegally will be caught and sent back.” It also calls for changes to address the backlog of pending immigration court cases.
The order also stresses that deportation actions will focus on people “suspected of terrorism, violent criminals, gang members and recent border crossers,” according to the White House.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker issued a statement on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration: “Immigration reform is both a moral responsibility and an economic opportunity for our nation. In my tenure as Secretary, I have met with 1,300 CEOs and business leaders around the country, and every one of them supports immigration reform. The fact is our current immigration system is broken, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, if the Senate bill became law, it would add $1.4 trillion to our economy. President Obama has laid out an accountable plan to address this broken system through an executive action, as we have been waiting far too long for Congress to act even though most Americans want reform. Ultimately, this executive action is a significant step in the right direction, but Congress should pass a permanent comprehensive reform package.”
University of California President Janet Napolitano announced that the system will expand legal services to undocumented students at six campuses, including UC San Diego, to provide immigration-related legal assistance to students at campuses without law schools. Napolitano said the UC Davis School of Law will host a pilot legal services center that will serve students at UCSD, plus campuses at Merced, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Riverside.
The pilot program was created in response to a recommendation made by the President’s Advisory Committee on Undocumented Students, a group of faculty, administrators and students appointed by Napolitano earlier this year.
“This pilot program is just the beginning,” Napolitano said. “We want to create a model for other UC campuses and universities across the nation to provide legal representation for undocumented students on their campuses.”
Obama’s executive actions have drawn a withering response from Republicans, but also have laid bare divisions within the GOP over how to deal with immigration.