Immigration advocates close to the White House have reported that President Obama has plans to unveil an executive action plan to defer deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants. Currently in Asia discussing climate change, President Obama is expected to put forth a ten point plan that will address immigration reform as the major human rights issue he feels it has become. While the White House could not confirm when the plan would be put in place, some believe it could be as soon as he returns from his trip overseas next week.
Humanitarian activists called on the President to take action when Congress failed to pass any of the immigration reform bills passed by the Senate this summer. Prior to this, Congress’ inaction has stalled reform for years, causing the number of deported immigrants to rise to unprecedented levels. The Secure Communities department is tasked with enforcing immigration laws causing hundreds of thousands of families to be split, children to be orphaned, and hardworking immigrants to face a return to issues they were trying to escape. Many believe the cost of continued inaction far outweighs the costs of offering amnesty.
A draft of President Obama’s executive action plan on immigration has unveiled ten points by which the U.S. will immediately provide relief for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. Following a 2012 deportation reprieve, the executive action would stop deportations for young illegal immigrants and parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Changes to the 2012 DREAM Act would now cover anyone who entered the U.S. before the age of 16 who had entered before January 2010. This would allow almost 300,000 illegal immigrants to remain in the country.
The plan would end the Secure Communities and boost pay for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. These two departments are primarily responsible for policing illegal immigration and carrying out deportations. The ICE Council representing ICE workers requested additional funding for the agency earlier this year. A pay raise for immigration officers may help boost morale. The draft of the immigration plan does not yet specify what agency will replace the Secure Communities program.
Obama’s executive action plan will also help to promote the naturalization process. Currently, the citizenship process costs $680. This amount often prevents many immigrants from applying. To encourage legal immigration to the U.S., this cost may be reduced by 50 percent for a limited number of applicants. The plan would also expand high-tech visas and provisional waivers for spouses and children of legal permanent residents. These aspects of the executive action address the need for immigrants with high-tech skills and would attempt to reduce the number of families being broken up via deportation.
Other provisions in Obama’s plan include stricter penalties for illegal immigrants who commit crimes and strengthening border security. The increased funding for border security would also address the issue of immigrants arriving illegally through the U.S.-Mexico border. Republican lawmakers have set border security as one of the new Senate’s top priorities.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has been vocal in his party’s opposition to the President circumventing Congress and acting unilaterally. He promised that he would “fight the President tooth-and-nail” if he goes forward with his executive action. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says he had hoped Obama would be willing to let Congress decide what reform legislation would be passed, if any.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are some 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the country right now, mostly living in the shadows. Co-Director of the Dream Action Coalition, Erika Andiola, believes even Obama’s proposed immigration plan leaves millions of families out of the deferred action, and that it doesn’t account for those already deported. The President is still receiving recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security. The plan remains in draft, and all the details are not fully cemented yet.
The threat of impeachment and government shutdown from Republicans continues to be the response to any unveiling of President Obama’s involving executive action plans, especially on immigration reform. On his own, the President does not have the power to grant citizenship or permanent residency. Obama can, however, provide temporary protections from deportation and work permits. Failing to reform immigration significantly can further alienate the growing Hispanic population of the U.S. who have grown tired of the political pandering that they feel continues to harm their families and friends.
By Didi Anofienem