BERGER: Here to stay

President Obama’s executive action on immigration goes far, but not far enough

Last week, President Obama announced his executive action on immigration policy, which will halt the deportation of roughly 5 million undocumented immigrants.

The individuals protected by the order include the parents of children who were born in the United States or are legal U.S. residents and children who came to the United States illegally before January 1, 2010 and have lived in here for at least five years. It allows them to apply for a three-year work permit if they can pass a background check, register with the government, submit biometric data and establish they are eligible for relief.

Immigration policies in the United States, up until now, have been ineffective and far too limiting. Our current system is one based on 20th century policies and other post 9/11 policies, and seeing immigrants as criminals or felons is what California State University professor Beth Baker calls “a venerable American tradition” that hinders immigration policy reform. This negative perception of immigrants became more prominent in the 1990s due to increasing “racial nativism,” which linked immigration to international gangs, drug smuggling and terrorism. The 1990s also produced the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which led to an exponential increase in the number of deportations. Now, in a post-1990s and post-9/11 world, deportation is much higher than it has been in years. President Obama’s recent reform is a step in the right direction, but will not be successful in its objective without a change in the overall perception of immigration.

During his speech, President Obama said, "We are a nation of immigrants.” It is this attitude, this belief in our country as the unity of many, which drives immigration policy reform. It is important to remember that we are in fact a country comprised of the descendants of immigrants. Almost all of us can say that our ancestors came to the United States from a different country, that they did not initially speak English and that they worked incredibly hard to provide for their families and to contribute to their communities.

I recognize, however, that there are U.S. citizens who do not see immigration as positive and who believe this sort of policy change will have adverse consequences, such as job displacement. However, our country is one that thrives off a competitive job market — so there is no reason we should be afraid to let immigrants compete with us. If they are best for the jobs, then they deserve them. Furthermore, by providing these undocumented immigrants with citizenship, they will be able to open bank accounts and increase their purchasing power, which will in turn help the economy. This is not to mention letting people into the United States from other countries can be extremely beneficial and can bring different views, opinions and cultures to our nation.

As for the projected impact of this order, it is important to examine the statistics. There are an estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. This executive order could be significant to many of those families. For example, National Immigrant Justice Center attorney Vanessa Esparaza-Lopez said President Obama’s action is "a huge deal" for Illinois. There are more than 510,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois, and according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), an estimated 280,000 of them could receive temporary legal status under President Obama's new order.

The White House released its own data, through its Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), estimating that economic output will increase by 0.4 to 0.9 percent over 10 years, correlating to increases in GDP of $90 billion to $210 billion in 2024. They believe it will not in fact affect employment opportunities, but rather will benefit the country and expand the tax base since many undocumented residents currently do not pay taxes.

There are indeed flaws in this policy, but it is the furthest we’ve gone toward reform and hopefully it will lead to future reform, such as a compromise with House Republicans on an immigration reform bill. According to CNN poll, 76 percent of Americans want the GOP to spend more time passing immigration reform legislation, while just 21 percent want the GOP to try to overturn it. Though many desire a positive Republican response, it’s believed House members will target funding for government agencies affected by Obama's action as they debate budget measures in December and some may even challenge the executive order legally.

But party politics aside, President Obama took a stance and made reform and now it is up to Congress to create a politically feasible, humane and efficient immigration policy; and to transition these immigrants into communities and homes, to address the problem of excessive deportation and to start recognizing the benefits of immigration to the United States.

Meredith Berger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at m.berger@cavalierdaily.com.

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