Some Immigration Advocates Skeptical Of Obama's New Policy
But the president’s proposal has yet to win over some immigration activists.
Obama’s executive order would make at least 800,000 undocumented immigrants eligible to apply for renewable work permits in the United States without fear of deportation. But the policy does not provide a path to legal status, leading Ron Gochez of the Southern California Immigration Coalition to suggest it is merely a ploy to help Obama secure Latino votes for his November re-election bid.
“If he is so convinced, as he said yesterday in his speech, that this is the right thing to do, why would it take him three years to do it?” Gochez said. “This was meant to appease that particular sector of the immigrant rights movement as a way to try and shut them up before election time.”
The political maneuvering could further bolster the president’s standing among Latino voters in key general election battleground states like Colorado, Florida and Nevada. A poll conducted in May showed Obama leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney among Latino registered voters by a 2-to-1 margin, but his support among that crucial voting demographic has not always been on sure footing because of the rise in deportations under his watch.
More than 1.1 million immigrants were deported during the first three years of Obama's term in office, the most of any U.S. president since the 1950s, The New York Times reported.
“It’s remarkable that President Obama, in three years, has deported more people than President Bush did in eight years,” Gochez said.
Under the administration’s plan, undocumented immigrants can avoid deportation if they were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are younger than 30 years old. They must also have been in the country for at least five years, have no criminal history and have graduated from a U.S. high school, obtained a GED or served in the military. Those eligible can apply for a renewable work permit every two years.
As a long-term solution, Gochez said he would like to see Obama use his executive power to end all deportations until the passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The proposed bill, which would provide conditional permanent residency to undocumented immigrants, has stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
“The president could have done a lot more," Gochez said. "He simply decided not to because of political pressure and fear of backlash from the extreme right-wing, xenophobic climate that exists."
Obama’s proposal would only provide a temporary band-aid for about 6 to 7 percent of the undocumented population, Gochez said. But whether the move was politically motivated or not, one immigration lawyer said he's glad the president acted at all.
”I was ecstatic—he hit it out of the park,” said Dan Kowalski of the Fowler Law Firm. “I already have at least one client who’s going to benefit from it.”
Kowalski emphasized the need to help thousands of young immigrants enter the workforce, but also mentioned that many specifics about the administration’s plans to put the policy into effect are still up in the air.
“How long is that going to take? Some of these kids need jobs today or tomorrow so they’re not going to get their work permits for about two months at the earliest,” Kowalski said.
The executive order can be overturned at any time by Obama or a president that succeeds him. Romney criticized Obama’s plan as a short-term solution, but has not given indications he would reverse the policy if elected president.
“If Romney wins, would he try to modify it or even overturn it?" Kowalski said. "So that’s a big question.”
Although he supported the idea that thousands of undocumented immigrants would be put to work under Obama’s plan, Gochez questioned how many will be willing to come forward about their immigration status.
“So what if I’m 25 years old, I announce to the federal government that I’m undocumented by doing the paperwork under this new policy,” Gochez said. “What happens five years later when I hit 30? It’s a huge risk for everybody to participate in this program because you can put a target on your back if this executive order is changed.”
Kowalski added people who think they qualify for the program must take steps to avoid becoming victims of fraud at the hands of dishonest immigration consultants.
“I would advise young people to get good advice not only from the Web, but also from social services and qualified immigration lawyers before they file anything with government,” Kowalski said.
In the meantime, Gochez said his group will continue to push for long-term changes to immigration laws, instead of settling for “temporary relief.”
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “But it’s far from what we need.”