President Obama, addressed the nation from the White House Thursday, unveiling executive action he is taking that would allow as many as 5 million immigrants in the country without authorization to come out of the shadows and “to play by the rules.”
“All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking the responsibilities of living in America,” said the president during his speech. “And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.”
Obama’s order will shield roughly 5 million immigrants from deportation, while ordering border authorities to target “felons, not families.”
The order will allow immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to request relief from deportation and authorization to work for three years. To qualify, they must have been in the country for more than five years, pass a criminal background check, pay fees and show that their child was born prior to the issuance of the executive order.
Once qualified, they will also have to pay taxes.
News that the Pres. Obama would announce “long promised” reforms to immigration policy Thursday was met with excitement by undocumented immigrants and their advocates across the Los Angeles region. Several groups, including the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles’ (CHIRLA), set up viewing parties to watch the president tell the nation details of his plan.
East Los Angeles resident Isabel Medina and her two U.S. born sons, ages 8 and 6, were among those watching at CHIRLA headquarters. The undocumented mother could hardly contain her emotion upon learning she and her husband are likely among the millions of people who will get a reprieve from deportation as a result of the president’s actions, keeping their family together. And while her sons did not fully understand the significance of the moment, they nonetheless cheered when told their parents would not be “deported.”
The Pew Research Center estimates that 4 million unauthorized immigrant parents, or 38% of adults of the U.S. population, lived with their U.S.-born children, either minors or adults, in 2012. Out of those, 3 million have been living in the U.S. for more than 10 years.
“As soon as I heard Obama’s speech I called my husband and explained everything to him,” Medina told EGP. “He was so excited!”
Obama also announced he will discontinue Secure Communities, a controversial program that allowed immigration agents to find people potentially eligible for deportation by reviewing fingerprints collected by local law enforcement agencies, and asking those agencies to keep the person in custody for longer than their jail term so agents could transform them to a federal detention center.
The president made it clear that in the future, agents would only go “after felons, not families: Criminals, not children, gang members, not a mom who is working hard to provide for her kids.”
Republicans have loudly criticized the president’s decision to act unilaterally and use his executive powers to change immigration policy.
“To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better…I have one answer: Pass a bill,” said the president, making reference to the Republicans failure to bring immigration reform up for a vote.
The president will be in Las Vegas today where he is expected to lay out more details during a speech at Del Sol High School.
Following the president’s speech, about 30 people from CHIRLA boarded buses to attend the Las Vegas event.
Several people said while they were happy that the president has taken action, they felt his speech was very general and failed to mention if or how his new orders will apply to migrant workers or the undocumented parents of those who have received deferred deportation status under a previous executive order. That order applied to young people brought to the country illegally through no fault of their own as children.
“The president wasn’t speaking to us as immigrants, he was speaking to an American public, trying to explain what this relief program will be about,” explained Jorge Mario Cabrera, CHIRLA’s director of communications told EGP.
“What we know is that the program will not include individuals who have no [US-born] children,” he added.
Josefina Cruz was in the caravan to Las Vegas. She has been living in the country without authorization for 23 years and told EGP she has been waiting years for immigration reform. The president’s executive action is great news for her family, said Cruz, the mother of two US-born children and two Mexican born children who recently received DACA-Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.
Without the fear of deportation hanging over his head, Cruz says her husband will be able to get a better job. After all the unfilled promises made, he didn’t believe it was going to happen, “But now he’s happy that I’m coming with the group” to witness the announcement in person, Cruz said.
While CHIRLA Executive Director Angelica Salas said that the president’s announcement “comes at the right time, “ she also pointed out that it comes following the deportation of “2.5 million of our loved ones in the past six years.”
The bus ride to Las Vegas was any opportunity for Salas to answer questions about what will be required of undocumented immigrants to qualify under Obama’s plan. She explained that those who are eligible will have to show proof they have been in the U.S. more than five years and were present in the U.S. on November 20th when the announcement was made.
“The problem is that if you don’t have U.S. born children [or who are legal residents] you don’t qualify,” she added.
Immigrant rights activists from all across the country are traveling to Las Vegas to hear the president speak. And while they for the most part applaud Pres. Obama for taking action, they say more permanent measures are needed, and pressure on the Congress to approve reforms that include the 6 million people not covered by the president’s plan must continue.
“This is just a small step before the big one,” said Cruz.