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Obama’s immigration plan praised, panned, part 2

By Federico Martínez, Special to La Prensa

Up to five million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including tens of thousands living in Michigan and Ohio will no longer have to live in fear of being deported under a new directive announced by President Barack Obama on Nov. 20, 2014.  The new program would also allow many immigrants to work legally in the country as long as they have no criminal background.

The program is one of several initiatives that the President announced as part of a far-reaching executive order that will reshape the nation’s immigration system, although there is still no pathway to citizenship being offered.

Rubén Martínez, director of the Julian Samora Hispanic Research Institute and Michigan State University

“This is going to make a huge difference in tens of thousands of lives in Michigan,” said Susan Reed, supervising attorney at Michigan’s Immigration Rights Center. “People have been living in fear of being separated from their families for years and feeling marginalized in the communities they live in.

“This will change the stress they deal with every day; going to church, picking up their children from school. This is an incredibly emotional announcement for a significant number of people.”

An estimated 100,000 undocumented immigrants are believed to be living in Michigan and another estimated 82,000 live in Ohio, according to the Migration Institute Policy, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington. Experts like Reed say about 40 percent of undocumented immigrants will qualify for the expanded deferred action program.

Reed cautions that people should not over-react to the president’s announcement.

“It’s a big night, but it’s not reform or a path to permanent residency,” said Reed. “The most important thing to remember is nobody should run out and hire an attorney to get first in line. The bad thing is there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there who will lie and try to take advantage of people.”

David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association based in Washington, D.C., said he was pleasantly surprised at how broad and far-reaching the president’s actions are.

The president’s announcement that he is scrapping the Secures Community program was especially pleasing news too many immigrant advocates, said Leopold, a Cleveland, OH attorney.

The program has long been criticized for being used as a dragnet to arrest immigrants for minor offenses like traffic violations.

 Under the president’s executive order, the United States Border Patrol and state and local law enforcement agencies will now be required by law to focus their efforts on detouring terrorists and immigrants involved in more serious crimes, such as drug-trafficking and murder, said Leopold.

David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

Local police will still be asked to send fingerprints of foreign-born people they arrest for immigration status checks by the Department of Homeland Security, but police will no longer be asked to routinely detain immigrants without papers.

“Law enforcement is being told to go after felons, not families; criminals, not children,” said Leopold.

Leopold, who met with President Obama earlier Thursday, said he was not aware that the president was also going to include a provision that will make it easier for more foreigners to come and study in the United States and will encourage them to stay in the country and start businesses. Details of this effort have not yet been released.

“I applaud the president tonight. I have been a critic of him in the past, but today I’m very proud that the president had the courage to act boldly and make a difference.”

Susan Reed said it will be interesting to see how Michigan Governor Rick Snyder responds to President Obama’s efforts to make the country more welcoming to immigrants who study in the United States and want to remain here. Ohio’s Lucas County Commissioners and Toledo City Council, earlier this week passed resolutions declaring themselves an “immigrant-friendly” community. Their resolutions are part of a county-wide effort to recruit more international college students and encourage them to remain after graduation.

Gov. Snyder could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Lucy Mendoza, 21, of Toledo, OH, a DREAMer who is attending college in Ohio, wasn’t impressed with the president’s efforts.   Ms. Mendoza, who was brought to the United States as a child, has been granted “deferred” or temporarily status to remain in the county.  She is legally allowed to work and pay taxes and attend college, but is not eligible for federal grants.

“On a personal level I’m very concerned for my loved ones,” said Ms. Mendoza. “There needs to be additional pathways considered to help people. Basically what he said was “we’re not going to deport you,” but there is no pathway to citizenship.”

Ms. Mendoza watched the president’s speech with a small gathering at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s headquarters in Toledo. Efforts there were subdued because a much hoped for break for farmworkers was not included in the president’s orders. Farmworker advocates were hoping that farmworkers who are living and working illegally in the United States would receive protection from deportation.

FLOC President Baldemar Velásquez could not be reached for comment after the president spoke. But in earlier comments he said the President’s administration hadn’t been aggressive enough about the issue. Velásquez said what’s needed is amnesty for undocumented immigrants already living in the country.

Susan Reed, supervising attorney at Michigan’s Immigration Rights Center

FLOC President Baldemar Velásquez

“Executive action is long-overdue,” said Velásquez. “Obama is a good man, but his handlers have been inept on this immigration issue. He should have used his position as a bully pulpit from the beginning, but mistakenly allowed his handlers to convince him to stay away from the word “amnesty.”

Rubén Martínez, director of the Julian Samora Hispanic Research Institute and Michigan State University, said he also was hoping that protection for farmworkers would be included.

“It would have huge implications for agriculture, as farmers could have a more reliable labor force,” he said. “Families would lead less stressful lives and the exploitation of the undocumented worker would become more transparent as the fear associated with perceived lack of rights by workers would be greatly reduced.”

Immigration advocates disagree on whether the president’s actions will spur Republicans to finally address immigration reform. The issue has been stuck in limbo the past two years because the Republican-led House’s has refused to allow a vote on a reform bill already approved by the U.S. Senate.

“I think this is a game-changer,” said Leopold. “He is using his authority to make immigration better and telling Congress “if you don’t like it, do something about it.

Mark Heller, senior attorney for Toledo, Ohio-based Advocates for Basic Equality, Inc.’s Migrant and Immigration Program, is less optimistic.

“I don’t think this new Congress will pass anything; in fact I think it’s less likely to do so,” said Heller. “It’s sad that Congress has taken a position that they won’t do anything for the American people.

“Instead, all their efforts have been to undermine everything Obama has tried to do. Our immigration system is broken and needs to be overhauled.”

Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 12/02/14 19:55:02 -0800.




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