Kit Steinkellner
November 21, 2014 1:53 pm

Yesterday, in a historic speech, President Obama announced the most sweeping changes to our country’s immigration policy in 40 years. His decision is poised to impact millions of undocumented parents of US citizens. It’s a huge deal, and for many, a cause for celebration. Here’s a breakdown of what it all means:

THE ISSUE

As Orange Is The New Black actress Diana Guerrero recently highlighted in her heartbreaking essay (in which she told the story of how her parents were deported from the United States back to Colombia when she was a child, leaving Guerrero, the only legal resident in her family, orphaned in America), we have a serious problem with how we deal with undocumented residents and how our government uproots families and demolishes lives with its current deportation policies.

WHAT HAPPENED

As a response to nightmarish stories like these, Obama recently announced that he will shield up to 5 million undocumented residents of the United States from deportation. This action will both grant reprieve to these undocumented residents and allow them to apply for a 3-year work permit if they can pass a background check, register with the government, submit biometric data, and provide evidence that they are eligible for relief.

This comes after 512 days of trying to get this reform passed through Congress. When the President was unable to break the congressional statement, he decided to use his executive power to go it alone. Obama isn’t signing any executive orders for this directive, but rather is issuing a presidential memoranda (which is similar and easier to implement, but considered less prestigious than an executive order) that establishes new procedures and guidelines for the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Labor.

WHO DOES THIS EFFECT?

Well, for starters, this memoranda shields up to five million of the estimated 11 million undocumented residents currently in the U.S.

To get more specific, undocumented residents affected by the memoranda include the parents of children who were either born in the U.S. or are Lawful Permanent Residents, and children who were brought into the country illegally prior to January 1, 2010, and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years.

This is not a memoranda that will apply to undocumented residents who have been in the U.S for less than five years or future undocumented residents. This is not a new law, only Congress can pass a law, but what this memoranda does do is provide relief to close to half of the undocumented residents currently living in the U.S.

WHAT THIS MEANS

What this means is that children with undocumented parents will not be forced to repeat Diana Guerrero’s story. We, as a nation, will not be splitting these families apart and forcing children to choose between their parents and their home.

WHAT OBAMA SAYS:

Obama states that, above all, his actions are lawful:

“I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President — the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me — that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.”

He argues that this memoranda is an act of defiance in the face of the current hypocrisy surround the issue of immigration:

“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?” he asked. “Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?”

He concludes that not only is this reform morally in the right, it’s also the most pragmatic plan of action:

“Even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants — in every state, of every race and nationality — will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest — tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans.”

WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE SAYING:

There are many positive reactions:

Diana Guerrero tweeted “Thanks @BarackObama 4giving hope to U.S citizen children growing up like me, fearing family deportation #ImmigrationAction @ILRC_SF

“Today our hearts are warmed. Go home with a smile,” Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, told the Associated Press.

Some have had mixed responses:

“The five million people who are going to be protected, you know, parents of U.S. citizens who are not going to be afraid of going to work and not being afraid of being deported. But it’s also bitter, because we know that the six other million people who are not going to be protected. And these are six million family members, community members, workers, who still live with that fear.” Ana Garcia, of the Central American Resource Center, told the AP.

And the reform also has its detractors:

“Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. That’s just not how a democracy works. The president has said before that he’s not king and he’s not an emperor, but he’s sure acting like one,” stated Republican House Speaker, John Boehner.

Immigration is a complicated issue and major reform is always a tricky thing to implement. That said, today we’re thinking of all the families that are going remain united in this country as a result of this reform, and we’re celebrating this victory with them.

(Image via)

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