On November 20th, President Obama announced executive actions regarding immigration. The provision has been called “the right thing to do”, “timely” and even “bold” by individuals and organizations that portray themselves a progressive. The reality, however, is different. The recent executive action is not even close to the comprehensive reform that is sorely needed by the immigrant communities in the United States. Certainly is not timely, as the President had the chance to act on comprehensive reform when he promised, immediately after his reelection in 2012. Finally, the recent executive action is far from being bold; the action is timid and weak.
According to some experts, about 5 million immigrants will benefit from the executive action. The program has five main focus areas: expansion of the previous Deferred Action Program (DACA) for DREAMERS, allow parents of US citizens to stay in the country for up to three years without fear of deportation, expanding the waiver program that was already in place for unlawful residents, modernizing and clarifying immigrant programs, and promoting citizenship education. Of these areas, two are the most contentious: the expand of the Deferred Action and allowing parents of US citizens to stay in the country for up to three years with a provisional work permit.
These actions, while might look like a dim light at the end of a very dark tunnel, need to be taken very seriously and with a grain of salt. Why? These programs are creating large, federal databases with enough information on undocumented residents which can be easily accessed by future administrations that might not be fond of immigrants. Currently, and up to the Election Day on 2016, there is a 50/50 chance of a Republican takeover of the White House. If the Republican candidate runs on the same platform that the party has espoused so far, this means that 5 million undocumented residents will be at the will of a hostile president who might take action in deporting them. We must remember that Obama’s executive action has a three year lifespan. This is well into the administration of the next US President, whoever that person might be.
Moreover, the executive action affects less than half of the total undocumented immigrant community. During a conversation with my spouse, who has lived in the USA without documentation for the past 11 years, we wondered what was going to happen to most of our family. Would they be able to apply for the executive action? What about our friends? The answers were not what we needed or wanted to hear. Only one member of our family, whose son is a US citizen, will qualify for this executive action. Others, such as an uncle who has lived in this country, paid local and federal taxes, worked and invest in the local economy for the past 12 years, would not be able to qualify for the mere reason of not having any children born in the USA. In addition, our friends who are gay or lesbian, who have no children and many of whom never thought of having children, but who have lived in the USA for most of their lives, will not qualify for Obama’s executive action. How can such an action be called “bold”?
Indeed, Obama’s executive action on immigration is weak, timid, and comes with too many risks for the undocumented community. It will be extremely important for undocumented residents to explore what options are best for them. Three years of a temporary work permit, with the possibility of deportation at the end of that time, might not be the wisest movement for many undocumented residents.
There is one thing, however, that has been made clear throughout this process: Obama and his advisors are good politicians. He decided not to push for comprehensive immigration reform before the mid-term elections, thinking that this would give them advantage with the conservative-leaning undecided voters. Somehow, he and the Democrats took for granted the support of minority voters. That, as we have already seen, backfired. By presenting this weak and timid executive action, he hopes to get back the support of the left-leaning voters while at the same time look like a “champion” of the immigrant communities. Of course, the Republican Congress is going to do everything in their power to minimize the effects of this executive order, which will make them look like “the bad guys”, which is exactly what Obama and his party needed to win the next general election. Basically, Obama and the Democrats are using the immigrant community as a weapon in their dirty political game.
Add to this what I have already experienced: the resistance of the – mostly white – liberal voters to acknowledge that Messiah Obama cannot do anything wrong. I have already received messages from friends and acquaintances that ask me to stop criticizing the President’s actions lest the “right” use that as a weapon against all the other positive things that President Obama has accomplished.
But I cannot keep silent. My role in a semi-democratic society like ours is to raise my voice when I see unjust actions that affect those who have no voice within the political structures. The role of any citizen is to keep their government checked lest it lose sight of its responsibility: to look after the wellbeing of all of the people. Just because President Obama has accomplished many great things during his tenure does not mean that I need to stay silent when he does wrong. On the contrary, it is my civil responsibility to call on the government officials who represent me to act according to what is the wellbeing of all my fellow citizens.
Finally, with the reaction I have seen from the – mostly non-immigrant, and mostly white – liberal community, it is my fear that pressure on the Obama administration to proceed with comprehensive immigration reform might wane. It seems to me like the progressive voice has, once again, fall trapped of the “Obama charisma and speech” and is willing to compromise the lives of the other 6+ million undocumented residents who will not qualify for this executive action. If the progressive voice is not heard anymore, neither Democrats nor Republicans will feel the need to move boldly on immigration reform. We have already seen how every progressive voice has been praising Obama for his weak and timid action, calling it “bold” when in reality is not even close to be so. I do not want to be the kind of citizen that serves as a rubberstamp for the political leaders I do support. What I want to be is a responsible citizen who is willing to criticize the wrong actions of any political leader, even if I agree with them in most of the policies that they support.
Mr. President, we need you to take BOLD action on immigration reform. Mr. President, we need you to ACT on immigration reform and not just use our immigrant communities as political weapons. Mr. President, we need you to BE A LEADER and not just a politician. The lives of over 11 million people who live and contribute to this country depend on you.