By Beverly Danquah
Broadcast live on national TV just hours after the White House released a 17-point executive order concerning immigration reform to the press, President Obama’s November 20th immigration speech addressed a problem that many U.S. government officials have been avoiding for decades. Our country’s immigration system is broken beyond words. If you are here illegally, it is likely that you live in the shadows, unable to fulfill the bright aspirations that brought you here out of fear of being caught. Yet America is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. The provisions set forth by Obama’s executive order are intended to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from mandatory deportation while still shielding our borders from known criminals and would-be terrorists. Undocumented immigrants not only get paid low wages by the people who illegally employ them, but they also don’t pay taxes. If they were documented these workers could boost our economy by becoming legitimate tax payers.
For many citizens, paying the IRS is the one thing that no one looks forward to. But many undocumented immigrants want to be part of the American way of life. They want to pay taxes. They want to vote. They want to have input on governmental policies. The current U.S. administration thinks that otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years should have a chance to do all these things. Using the executive powers that belong to every elected President, Obama has officially put a new immigration plan in motion for the first time in decades. But as his supporters point out, while the President has “gotten the ball rolling,” only Congress can finish the job by passing a bi-partisan bill that will replace Mr. Obama’s executive orders with a completely overhauled and improved immigration system.
The three central components of the President’s 17-point plan are: (1) Cracking down on illegal immigration at the border, (2) Deporting felons, not families, and (3) Enforcing accountability by instituting work-authorization background checks to eliminate human trafficking, abusive servitude, and convicted criminals from the equation, while placing newly authorized immigrants on state and federal tax rolls.
Below are selected excerpts from President Obama’s actual speech followed by my comments [in italics]:
“First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings and speed the return of those who do cross over.”
[This means that there will be more strict rules and regulations governing border crossings.]
“Second, I’ll make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders proposed.”
[This is a huge point. Being in high school, many students who are undocumented question their future every day. They ask themselves: “So what happens after this? Can I apply for college? How will I afford college costs?” Not only do these students fear applying for college, their parents do too. While some parents are forcing their children to apply to top colleges around the country, others are pleading with their children not to apply to college at all. Being immigrants themselves, many parents fear getting caught and being questioned. With the many questions that colleges ask to make sure you qualify for financial assistance and other aspects of the college admission process, high school students may feel uneasy contemplating this important step towards a better future. A revamped immigration system like the one spearheaded by President Obama’s Executive Order will assure students who aspire to the proverbial American Dream that their education will not go to waste, and that they may pursue any career they like regardless of their citizen status. Obama made a great point here because by helping undocumented immigrants, he is also helping the American economy. When more people become lawfully employed they consequently put more money into circulation.]
“Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country. I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we’re also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable, especially those who may be dangerous.”
[This puts many people’s parents and their patterns of behavior into perspective. Attending school in Spanish Harlem a/k/a El Barrio, I witness many people of Mexican descent (as well as other Spanish-speaking nationalities) living and working along 116th from Pleasant Avenue to Lexington Avenue every day. According to a recent study done by the Pew Hispanic Center, 81% of the illegal immigrants in the US are Latin American, with a whopping 59% being Mexican. One cannot tell that someone is an illegal immigrant by just looking at them, which is why proper documentation can save a lot of undocumented families from constant worry over being discovered and punished. Now illegal aliens who are supporting school-age children and have been living here at least five years can come out of hiding knowing that Obama has implemented a new immigration process that favors honest, hard-working people with families. However, the President made very clear during his speech that if you are an illegal immigrant with any kind of criminal record, you will be deported.]
In summation, I must remind my readers that the Presidential plan now going into effect should not be confused with amnesty. Amnesty is an official, legal pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses. However, because President Obama’s 17-point Executive Order can be officially enforced prior to Congressional ratification of these points as new national laws, the President’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions offer roughly 5 million undocumented immigrants a provisional exemption from deportation, but will not automatically make them legal citizens.
If you wish to compare how Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. also used their executive powers in the past to selectively protect illegal immigrants, check out Andrew Taylor’s November 17th post on Associated Press’s “The Big Story” website. [http://bigstory.ap.org]