Central American Studies

Obama’s executive order on immigration

On Thursday, President Obama announced his much-anticipated executive action on immigration. After facing sharp criticism for postponing action on this issue, he declared that his plan would do three principal things: First, his plan would offer contingent deportation relief to some immigrants. Specifically, to those who have children who are U.S. citizens/residents, have been in the country for more than five years, and who have no criminal records. Second, the plan would extend visas to high skilled workers, i.e. workers in the technology sector. Third, Obama vowed to increase border security and deportations, stating, "If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up."

While some aspects of Obama’s plan mark a positive step toward the creation of more humane U.S. immigration policies, the exclusion and continued criminalization of other immigrants remains fundamentally problematic. For example, D.A.C.A will remain in place, and expanded to some extent. Yet, youth who were part of the 2012 reprieve, and current D.A.C.A applicants, will see their parents excluded from the relief offered by Obama’s plan.  This is a blow to many young people, including students here at California State University, Northridge, who have been on the front lines of the immigration reform battle, pushing for the expansion of D.A.C.A to include their families. We will continue to work toward action that will reduce further unjust deportations and to make it possible for migrants to no longer have to live in a daily state of fear of being separated from their families and loved ones, of being uprooted from local communities to which they have contributed and belong, or of being denied access to jobs and resources needed to survive.

The continued criminalization of migrants is another area of great concern. Yes, the dismantling of the Secure Communities Program is a step in the right direction, yet an increase in border security and deportation is an indication that the criminalization of migrants remains intact. Perhaps in an attempt to inspire a sense of solidarity, Obama quoted a passage from the bible, “… we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.” The sentiment is shallow when coupled with the strengthening of draconian measures enforced at U.S. borders. Is this not a form of oppression?

We recognize that this plan is one step in the right direction, and that it comes with problems and a number of unanswered questions. Many immigrants will find it impossible to meet the requirements and will be arbitrarily excluded from the policy. They will continue to live with the daily fear of deportation, in a hostile immigration climate, and will have to deal with uneven and inhumane immigration enforcement practices in local communities and along the U.S-Mexico border. Most importantly, this provisional executive action must be followed by permanent change to a flawed immigration system and a hostile immigrant climate, to make way for a path to citizenship, humane and just immigration enforcement practices and policies, and living conditions of dignity and respect for the immigrant community.