Young illegal immigrants can remain in the United StatesThe President's use of a June 15, 2012 Executive Order to grant a reprieve to certain young people who came to the country illegally before they were sixteen and are at present under thirty, has certainly sparked controversy, especially in an election year. His order goes forward with the changes proposed in the so-called Dream Act, but not enacted by Congress.
The young people considered in this Order have been described as 'dreamers' in a positive sense. Individuals that are here illegally but living productive lives, dreaming of citizenship, and full participation in the American dream are eligible.
This Executive Order provides a clear path to U.S. citizenship for many young illegal immigrants who are here through no fault of their own and meet certain criteria. The logic in dealing sympathetically with immigration issues involving those brought here by their families as children is apparent to many Americans. In fact, support is estimated at over 80% among American citizens. Support is estimated to exceed 70% even in Arizona. Most understand that a child usually has no say in a parental decision to illegally enter the country, and that subsequently punishing that person seems inconsistent with certain American values.Although this Order regarding immigration is being well received in the Hispanic community, it has certain caveats that perhaps limit the degree of reform that will actually occur as the Order is implemented. For instance, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that the Order pertains only to individuals that:
- Are less than thirty years of age
- Came the U.S. before the age of 16
- Have been in the U.S. at least five years
- Pose no criminal or security threat, with no felony or significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanor convictions
- Have had success as a student, meaning a HS graduate or GED recipient, or, service in the military or Coast Guard, with no dishonorable discharge
Outside of the Washington beltway, support was forthcoming from the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups for this change in immigration policy. It is estimated that as many as 800,000 individuals can qualify for a two year deportation deferral under this order. There were 396,906 deportations in fiscal 2011 according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. This was the largest number of annual deportations ever in the United States. In 2010, deportations numbered about 392,000. Napolitano has indicated that about 55% of these deportations involved those with criminal records. Such individuals do not avoid deportation under Obama's June 15th order.
But, the effects of this policy change are numerous. Employment without fear of deportation is suddenly extended to a large number of individuals. Those that successfully acquire work permits achieve legal status and creating a path to U.S. citizenship. Immigration attorneys applauded the decision.
Misinformation seems to swirl around the President's Order regarding the illegal immigration of those who came here as children at least five years ago. It does not grant either immunity or amnesty. It is only a two year deportation deferral. The people covered by this Executive Order are specifically defined. It allows them to apply for a work permit but does not guarantee the receipt of such a permit. One might say that this is a practical effort to begin to address a system of immigration that has been broken for a long time.Mitt Romney has criticized this June 15th Executive Order, suggesting that in a Romney administration he would pursue more comprehensive immigration reform. But, if one looks at the White House's own website, this order is simply part of an overall effort to fix the immigration system for the long term. It states that "The President plans to create a 21st Century immigration system by:
- Continuing to fulfill the federal government's responsibility to securing our borders
- Demanding accountability for businesses that break the law by undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented workers
- Strengthening our economic competitiveness by creating a legal immigration system that reflects our values and diverse needs
- Requiring responsibility from people who are living in the United States illegally
The timing of the President's immigration order engenders accusations of pandering to Hispanic voters. However, Republican Marco Rubio from Florida, a possible Romney running mate, has essentially supported a somewhat weaker version of what the President has now ordered. Romney does not possess the stronger appeal in the Hispanic community once enjoyed by President Bush, who garnered over 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, according to the respected Annenberg survey run through the University of Pennsylvania. Romney is vulnerable on this issue and references to being 'out of touch' do not help in the area of immigration reform.
The administration can respond to Romney's criticism by suggesting that the nation's business cannot be put on hold for a presidential campaign. One cannot escape the realization however that this Executive Order regarding immigration will be very popular among Hispanic voters. The impact on the November election, especially in a swing state like Florida, cannot be discounted.
This Executive Order regarding immigration may be criticized as only having temporary implications, but the President is seeking to do something constructive and to generate momentum for more comprehensive immigration reform during a prospective second term.