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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

De Novo: President Obama’s Plans to Bypass Congress on Immigration

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Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

 Inscription on the Statue of Liberty, “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET, in a live primetime speech from the East Room of the White House, President Obama will announce his plans for executive action regarding immigration reform.  “Everybody agrees that our immigration system is broken; unfortunately, Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long,” the President said in a video message posted Wednesday.

According to White House authorities, President Obama will “maximize the use of his authority” to extend temporary legal status to more than 5 million undocumented immigrants via executive order.  This flex of executive power arrives amidst threats of backlash from Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who said yesterday in a Politico op-ed that Republicans should refuse to confirm any of the President’s nominees for as long as the temporary amnesty remains in effect.

President Obama’s executive order is expected, among other things, to:

a) Provide legal reprieve to undocumented parents of U.S citizens and permanent residents who have resided in the country for more than five years with no criminal record.  This reprieve will remove the threat of deportation and allow many to receive valid work permits.

b) Expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that allowed immigrants under the age of 30 who arrived illegally as children to apply for a deportation deferral, likely by removing current age limits for the program; and

c) Facilitate visas for highly skilled workers (those with science, technology, engineering, or math degrees).

As a first-generation American of Jamaican descent, I am well aware of how fortunate I am to have been born a United States citizen.  My father arrived in this country from Jamaica on an R-1 non-immigrant visa in the late 1970s and, after working for more than five years as a minister for the Lake Region Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, became eligible for a green card for permanent residence.  Shortly after, my mother later obtained her U.S. citizenship through him. My siblings and I owe our privileged upbringing to my father’s decision to immigrate to the United States.

For undocumented immigrants who entered the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their children, and who live with the constant fear and threat of deportation, Congress’s repeated failure to pass broader immigration reform is inexcusable.  As the President has made clear, his executive order will serve to catalyze immigration reform, but the onus remains on Congress to enact a comprehensive bill.  “What I’m going to be laying out are the things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system work better, even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem,” the President said. 

Let me know in the comments what you think of the President’s exercise of executive power, and watch tonight to hear the President tell us himself what his plan for immigration reform will include.

About Roxana 

Roxana Bell is an attorney at Bingham Greenebaum Doll.  She concentrates her practice in the area of management-side representation in labor and employment. She can be reached at rbell@bgdlegal.com.  The opinions expressed are those of the author. Follow Roxana Bell on Twitter.

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