On Nov. 20, Barack Obama used his presidential prerogative in an executive order that would temporarily block the potential deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. He should have done this much sooner, but he spend nearly six years pandering to Republicans, hoping they would approve his promised comprehensive immigration reform. During that time he instituted a radical policy of deportation, evicting two million people from the country. In 2012 he increased the Border Patrol budget by 24 percent, for a total of $18 billion, and increased personnel to 21,000. Thus, without gaining political success or credit, he accomplished what Republicans were demanding, while at the same time incurring the enmity of pro-immigration groups, principally Latinos.
In the wake of this failure, President Obama is now provoking the ire of his Republican adversaries, who say he is “poisoning the well” of the debate and that the result will be no immigration reform at all. Reactions to the executive order, including Republican complaints, are varied and unceasing among politicians and media. The debate, which began in earnest when the major English-language television networks decided not to air the president’s announcement live, is especially robust—and unique—in Spanish-speaking media.
Experts all over point out that the order has a limited benefit. Although it is renewable every three years, it does not offer a path to residency, much less citizenship, and it can be revoked by presidential order (possibly by the next president). Aside from the Dreamers, whose benefits are extended, other beneficiaries must have children who are United States citizens or who have legal residency; must have lived, worked and paid taxes in this country since before 2010; and must have complied with the laws of this country.
Immediately after the issuance of the presidential order, there was general euphoria among Latinos, especially Mexicans, who make up the majority of those who would be protected by the
order. The expressions of joy were exaggerated, with many believing the order to be the long-awaited comprehensive reform. Many prepared to change jobs, travel and make future plans. This happens every time there is talk, or even a hint, of some immigration fix, such as the bill passed by the Senate a year and a half ago that lies frozen in the House. (There are also numerous limitations in that bill, in which immigrants must wait at least 10 years to be legalized and to eventually become citizens.)
Many experts, however, see the new measure with optimism. For them it is a first step to comprehensive reform; they believe Republicans will fail to win over Latinos—a significant and growing portion of the electorate—with a president who will revoke Obama’s executive order while continuing to block reform. What happens when the process of regularization of four to five million immigrants begins remains to be seen, as does what happens in the 2016 presidential election.
Still others see an abundance of uncertainty. Nobody knows how many of the affected immigrants can comply with the order’s requirements, and how many will abstain in fear that a new Republican president will revoke the order, leaving them vulnerable to deportation.
In defense of the order, Obama has said the measure will preserve the family unit by not separating undocumented parents from their documented offspring, and will instead concentrate on deporting criminals, gang members, drug traffickers and possible terrorists while continuing to further reinforce the border and ports of entry in order to avoid a new wave of immigration. Nevertheless, the list of deportations will inevitably include thousands of good, hard-working people.
Millions of others who are unable to comply with the requirements or are excluded for other reasons fear new raids and deportations with the intensified persecution of undocumented immigrants. This is especially true for those who, by necessity, are using false documents, driving without a license or insurance or who may be or have been involved in some legal problem. And then there are the recent arrivals and those about to make the journey to el Norte.
On top of all this uncertainty are increasing cases of fraud against immigrants. Despite warnings by authorities and Spanish-speaking media, the number of those who take advantage of the situation by becoming “experts in immigration” continues to grow. They represent themselves as notaries or immigration lawyers and prey upon vulnerable immigrants who, for lack of education or information or out of an intense desire to be legal, are easy victims of these schemers. The victims pay enormous sums of money for promises that are impossible to keep, often leaving them even more exposed to the law and eventual
Victor Reyes is a translator, teacher and native of Puebla, Mexico with decades-old ties to the Light. The Spanish-language version of this column is available at ptreyeslight.com.