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Mr. President: Act now on immigration

REUTERS/Joshua Lott
Hundreds of thousands have been deported for non-violent crimes since a 1997 change in immigration law mandated removal of any immigrant convicted of a crime punishable by at least a one-year sentence.

With the election over, President Obama has no good reason to delay executive orders to mitigate the harsh application of current immigration laws. Every day that he delays means more families torn apart by deportation. He cannot change the immigration law itself — only Congress could do that, and they won’t. But the president can and must use his executive power to change the way that the current law is applied. That is now the only way to stop deportation of family members and longtime U.S. residents and to protect refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence and terror in Mexico and Central America.

Immigration reform has come before Congress repeatedly over the past decade. Each time, Republicans in Congress blocked all meaningful reform. With a new Republican majority coming to the House and Senate in January, immigration reform is dead for at least the next two years. The president promised executive action before the election. Then he delayed until after the election, which helped neither immigrants nor Democratic candidates. Now he promises executive action soon, but Republicans are ramping up the rhetoric against both the president’s executive power and immigrants.

Poll after poll shows widespread support for immigration reform, among Democrats and Republicans. Though popular support for immigration reform has increased over the years, right-wing opposition has stymied every effort at changing the law.

That leaves a seriously broken immigration system in place. Right now, spouses of U.S. citizens are being deported. Parents of U.S. citizen children are being deported. Migrants who have lived and worked and paid taxes in this country for decades are being deported. Migrants convicted of minor crimes, even years after paying fines or serving sentences, are being deported.

Congressional inaction leaves only executive action as a tool to ameliorate the damage done by a broken immigration system. While the president cannot change the law, he can order deferred action on deportation for specific groups of people. That’s what he did back in 2012, with the popular DACA program: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The DREAM Act, which had broad bipartisan support, would have given these young people legal status. Since right-wing opposition blocked the DREAM Act, the president acted to protect the young DREAMers.

Now these young people are enrolling in colleges, getting jobs and serving in the military. Their parents, however, are still being deported. The parents and siblings and spouses of DREAMers need protection. President Obama can act now, by issuing an executive order extending deferred action to them.

Other groups who need this protection include spouses and siblings of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens like Madina Salaty and Maria Perez tell heart-wrenching stories of the devastation of their families because of deportation of their spouses. Salaty’s husband came to the U.S. in 1994 on a student visa and lived here for 20 years — more than half his life. He was deported back to Bangladesh in May, subject to a ten-year ban on re-entering the United States. Perez said in the Washington Post that her husband’s 2013 deportation left behind “three broken hearts,” with her four- and thirteen-year-old children suffering along with her.

Long-time U.S. residents also need the protection through executive action. Hundreds of thousands have been deported for non-violent crimes since a 1997 change in immigration law mandated removal of any immigrant convicted of a crime punishable by at least a one-year sentence. This means immigrants with legal permanent resident status as well as migrants without valid visas. An executive order protecting immigrants who have lived in this country for at least three years could stop the deportation of people for crimes such as drunk driving.

Refugees and asylum seekers also need protection. Limits on refugee admissions mean that many people who flee to the United States have no hope of getting a visa. The United States currently admits a maximum of 70,000 refugees each year. Less affluent countries, such as Turkey and Kenya, open their borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn neighbors. Even as Mexico searches for 43 students who disappeared in police custody, and even as dozens of bodies are discovered in mass graves, the United States refuses to recognize most Mexican refugees.

Obama promised executive action earlier this year, and then delayed because he didn’t want to anger Republicans before the election. The anti-immigrant extremists will by angry, no matter what he does.

Obama has promised action before the end of the year. Now the question is whether he will delay that action until after the budget is passed.

Delay gains nothing. No conciliatory words, no delays, no attempts at bipartisanship have moved Republicans to cooperate over the past six years. Delay on immigration continues to tear apart families, to deport mothers and fathers, to leave people living in fear. President Obama, the time for action is now.

This post was written by Mary Turck and originally published on News Day. Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryturck.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 11/17/2014 - 11:23 am.

    The hypocrisy of the GOP is showing.

    The politician don’t know what to do with immigration because of their decades of inaction. This is a case where they should deal with it no matter the political consequences. If it is a major problem harming the country, as the GOP claims, it’s their job to keep harm from happening in and to our country.

    For years politicians have turned a blind eye to America’s immigration problem because it benefitted their district. The Bush administration response to illegal immigration was always “THEY CAN COME BECAUSE THEY WILL DO THE JOBS NO ONE ELSE WILL DO”. This migration served to benefit the mega agricultural companies in places like California and Arizona, among others. Families came here, did the work, and had children (now American citizens). The pressure was put on the politicians, who had looked the other way for years, to do something about all the illegal Mexican people here. If we actually had a real border policy and enforced it we wouldn’t have this problem. Here we are with families made up of Mexican and American citizens. You can’t morally send the Mexican family members home and leave the American citizens here which would break up the families, Remember this was caused by the inaction of politicians. Now the politicians finger point like they didn’t have any part in this, when they did. It is time to hold the politicians accountable. They created this mess, now fix it! It is time for the political claptrap to end and make meaningful changes to our immigration system. Guess what other presidents have used the executive powers of the presidency to shield immigrants from deportation, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Dang they are both Republicans, who would have guessed that? The hypocrisy of the GOP is showing.

  2. Submitted by George Macaulay on 11/17/2014 - 06:36 pm.

    We have a new Congress

    Why is there a rush to act? There is a new Congress just elected. Let’s let them act. Would you be so supportive of a Republican President that said “I want lower rates and Congress is being too slow, so I have directed the IRS to collect less?”

    • Submitted by jason myron on 11/17/2014 - 09:10 pm.

      ” Let’s let them act.”

      That’s some seriously funny material right there. What has Congress acted upon in the last six years?

  3. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/17/2014 - 06:37 pm.

    Let’s correct some inaccuracies here:

    Obama shall mitigate harsh application of current immigration law… Ok, why wouldn’t he mitigate harsh application of current criminal law as well – you know the one that send people behind bars for stealing and murder. It also tears families apart – a father goes to prison and his family stays outside… At least, if a father is sent to his native country his family has a choice of following him…

    The Congress will not change the immigration law… Actually, with Republicans in control of both houses it easily can do it. Who said it is dead? Why not wait and see?

    Republicans blocked all meaningful reform in Congress… I think there was time when Congress was completely controlled by Democrats….

    Immigration reform is super popular… Sure, but not necessarily what Obama wants to do. Check how the super liberal state of Washington voted on immigrant related issue (hint: not in agreement with illegal immigrant advocate group).

    Mr. Christensen blames Bush, as always. Well, actually, President George W. Bush PUSHED for immigration reform but lost in 110 US Congress which was fully controlled by…. Democrats…

    And finally, both Reagan and George W.H. Bush shielded some immigrants from deportations but not against explicit warning of the Congress, not for the benefit of their own party, not that many… is it enough? Whatever Obama wants to do, has no precedent…

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 11/18/2014 - 08:24 am.

    I understanding why sweeping G.W. Bush under the carpet is a goal for the GOP. I just repeated Bush’s mantra on immigration. “THEY CAN COME BECAUSE THEY WILL DO THE JOBS NO ONE ELSE WILL DO”. Of course not everyone will agree on an approach to immigration, that’s America. The party of NO has nothing to cry about because they could participate in improving our immigration system if they didn’t have to have it all their way.

    President Obama didn’t get an explicit warning from congress he got a warning from Republicans in congress. What is new about that from the party that hasn’t want to participate in democracy for the last six years.

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