President’s Immigration Plan Praised, Panned
By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent
How President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration will affect Ohio or Michigan Latinos is yet unknown, but the president’s actions are being both praised and panned by both sides of the reform debate.
Cleveland immigration attorney David Leopold called the reforms long overdue, because it will give peace of mind to many undocumented immigrants and their families.
“The scariest thing right now in this country is for nobody to take action on immigration and that is what Congress has done,” said Leopold. “So the president needs to take it upon himself to make the system, the immigration system work as well as it can work until Congress finally does its job and fixes the law.”
President Obama outlined a set of criteria in a prime-time address to the nation Thursday evening. He has vowed to do what he can to make the system work better because of a stalled bill in the Senate and inaction by Congress as a whole. But the president pledged, despite his short-term executive action, to work with the newly-elected Congress to get a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed.
Leopold called it the right thing to do, because too many law-abiding undocumented immigrants are being deported, instead of being given a path to citizenship.
“There are a lot of families in Ohio being split up,” said Leopold. “Every night they go bed wondering whether the mother or the father will be taken away in the morning. They need not live in this kind of fear.”
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, whose Lake Erie-lined district includes large Latino populations in Toledo, Lorain, and Western Cleveland, praised the president for taking action on what she called a “complicated” issue.
“Earned citizenship is a horizon to which those who are law-abiding can aspire. Life story after life story of the undocumented is complicated and compelling,” said Rep. Kaptur. “Their destiny has been delayed for decades. So the president's initiative provides the impetus for resolution. Doing so will make America stronger. The president has set firm and clear conditions to deal with the undocumented. Each situation is unique.”
“A lot of these families are mixed-status families, they have U.S. citizen children, parents work hard, pay their taxes,” explained Leopold. “They ought to be given a chance to be out in the open, a reprieve from the kind of fear they’ve been living under.”
The Cleveland immigration attorney expects the president’s executive order to allow many undocumented families to “come out of the shadows” and actually hold jobs and pay taxes, which would both boost the economy and stabilize wages for other US-Americans.
“Think about it—people start getting into the workforce and they start paying payroll taxes,” said Leopold. We’re talking about $45 billion in payroll taxes over the next five years from this action, $6 billion over the next year.”
The immigration attorney pointed out that undocumenteds coming to the U.S. is at record lows and has not increased in nearly four years. He called the president's actions “a brief reprieve or respite to people who are under the threat of deportation.”
“The other thing to remember is that the wages of Ohioans will be stabilized or go up because of this,” suggested Leopold. “Think about it—if people cannot exploit undocumented workers by paying them sweatshop worker wages, that helps American worker’s wages.”
Reaction to the executive order fell, predictably, along party lines. Ohio Republicans decried Obama's actions as acting like a “monarchy,” while Ohio Democrats defended the need for action of some kind.
“The President’s decision to take unilateral action demonstrates a blatant disregard for the will of the American people and the separation of powers explicitly outlined in our Constitution," said U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio-5th District). “It exceeds his executive authority, and I, along with my colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, will fight this gross executive overreach.”
“Democrats and Republicans came together in the Senate to pass a plan that would strengthen our borders, put American workers and businesses first, and create jobs,” said U.S. Sen, Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in a statement. “The House of Representatives has failed to take action on this bipartisan plan for more than 500 days, and so President Obama, like his predecessors [Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and BushII], must act rather than continue to break up families. If House Republicans are concerned with President Obama's actions, they should take up the Senate's bipartisan bill instead.”
“By acting alone on immigration, the president isn't just going around Congress, he's going around the American people,” countered U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “If the president truly wants to fix our broken immigration system, he should work with the newly-elected Congress-- both Democrats and Republicans—on real reform, including improved internal enforcement measures and securing our border.”
Five million people are estimated to be affected in some way by the president's immigration order, mostly parents and young people.
The main beneficiaries of the president's actions are immigrants who have been in the U.S. without documentation for more than five years but whose children are citizens or lawful permanent residents. After passing background checks and paying fees, those individuals can now be granted relief from deportation for three years and get work permits. Applications for the new deportation deferrals will begin in the spring.
Also of note in the executive order for many of Ohio's undocumented immigrants is a provision that expands visas for migrant farm workers. They will not be singled out for protections because of concerns that it was difficult to justify legally treating them differently than undocumented workers in other jobs, such as hotel clerks, day laborers, and construction employees. Those newly protected immigrants also will be offered access to the Affordable Care Act, providing many with the healthcare they've lacked.
But there is some speculation the new protections from deportation may not apply to most of Ohio's undocumented immigrants.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in the nation's capital, Ohio is home to an estimated 82,000 undocumented immigrants. Of those, only 40 percent-- or 33,000--would qualify for the temporary deportation relief being offered.
Many immigrants living in Ohio have not been here long enough to qualify for the five-year threshold in the presidential order. Only 28 percent fit the criteria of being parents of children born in the U.S., compared with the national average of 33 percent, according to the institute. There may be other barriers to apply, even for those who do qualify.
“There's lots and lots of thorny issues that will have to be resolved,” Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst and demographer at the Migration Policy Institute told USA Today. “How many will actually apply and succeed, we don't know. But it will definitely be lower than that”
According to the Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 45,000 of Michigan’s undocumented immigrants would be eligible for the deportation deferral. 32,000 of those are parents of U.S.-born children.
Some undocumented immigrants may have trouble proving they've been state-side for more than five years, depending on what kind of documentation is required. The back taxes and fees involved in filing an application may prove unaffordable for still other undocumented immigrants.
Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of HOLA, a Latino grass-roots advocacy group based in Northeast Ohio, told USA Today the presidential action will bring a new sense of freedom to many immigrant families. But she added that "many, many people will be left out” who will still have to worry about being stopped by police and sent to Port Clinton for deportation proceedings.
Ms. Dahlberg also worries about the political uproar and hostile climate to come from the executive order, calling it a temporary fix that still needs a permanent solution.
“Everyone is bracing for a backlash,” she said. “The Latino community is going to proceed with caution.”
Many are worried a Republican-controlled Congress will either sue the president or stall any immigration reforms in order to make it an issue in the 2016 presidential race. But that sort of political backlash could prove costly, as the number of Latino voters continues to grow and becomes a more powerful political bloc in that time frame.
The Republican Governor's Association met right after the president made public his executive order. While many GOP governors blasted Obama for his unilateral action, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, rumored to be considering a presidential run of his own in 2016, took a more conciliatory approach on granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants.
“I'm not closed to it. Everybody in this country needs to feel like they have an opportunity,” said Kasich while onstage during a roundtable discussion with four other governors also considering a 2016 run.
Political historians also point out that previous presidents have issued executive orders that deferred deportation of immigrants, including Presidents Ronald Reagan (Republican), George H.W. Bush (Republican), Bill Clinton (Democrat), and George W. Bush (Republican).