Photo Credit: Julio Salgado; http://juliosalgado83.tumblr.com/
In a victory for undocumented immigrants and their allies, on Friday, June 15, after facing years of pressure, President Obama announced a new plan to stop deportations of certain undocumented immigrants. The adjustments mirror those in the proposed DREAM Act, which would have offered amnesty to undocumented students who came here as children, provided they were in school, had a high school diploma or completed their general education development (GED), or had committed to military service. Similarly, the change disclosed this morning would offer a two-year reprieve from deportation for undocumented residents who came here as children, are under 30, have no felonies or repeat misdemeanors, and satisfy the education and/or military requirements. During this two-year relief period, immigrants can apply for work permits. However, as the administration has made clear, the shift does not offer amnesty or a path to citizenship. The Associated Press reports that as many as 800,000 young immigrants will be positively affected by the new rule.
This may be the boldest move the Obama administration has made to stem the record-breaking tide of deportations. It will offer much-needed relief to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, but some remain skeptical, for a few reasons. First, previous efforts to help undocumented families, such as last year’s decision to use “prosecutorial discretion” to halt some deportations, have achieved mixed results. Second, the rhetoric on “helping immigrants” still narrows itself to aiding the “good,” “productive” ones who don’t “pose a threat to national security.” This reasoning erases the contributions of millions of immigrants, whose collective labor in agriculture, construction, food service and other industries has helped improve the lives of U.S. residents. Third, activists have pressured the President for years to help reform the immigration system, only to be met with assurances that Obama himself could do little to change anything. DREAMers rallied in Washington, staged sit-ins, and audaciously refused to be silenced. The timing of this announcement, because it so boldly reverses course on previous statements from the President, makes some wonder about his commitment to meaningful reform in the face of Congressional opposition. Fourth, the new order essentially allows undocumented immigrants to continue contributing their labor while waiting to see if they can become citizens. Since this is an executive order, and not a law, future presidents could easily reverse it. It remains to be seen when elected officials will learn to accept that all immigrants are valuable, not just certain ones.