Obama Announces Immigration Reforms: Amnesty for Millions of Illegal Immigrants Who Have Been in the US for Over Five Years
In a new set of immigration reforms announced last week, US president Barack Obama has outlined a plan that will let millions of illegal immigrants avoid deportation, though he also emphasized that this is a temporary measure and has urged Congress to make it permanent.
Under the new reforms, any person who has been living in the US for at least five years or is a parent of a citizen or permanent US resident can now apply for citizenship. People who arrived in the US after January 1, 2010 are not eligible, and all applicants under this plan will have to undergo security and background checks, prove their eligibility, and pay taxes.
“We’re going to offer the following deal. If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” Obama said in his 16-minute speech.
Supporters of the immigration reforms were in a jubilant mood, with many gathering outside the White House waving flags and holding up placards in support of the move. With the threat of deportation lifted, they feel the new reforms would make the immigration system more just.
However, the president warned that the rules should not be mistaken for what they are not. Elaborating further, Obama said that the new deal does not apply to anyone who has arrived in the US recently or will arrive in the US illegally in the future. Also it does not grant citizenship or permanent residence as that is for the Congress to decide. For now all it does is prevent the deportation of eligible immigrants.
Republicans have criticized the reforms, saying that the president does not have the constitutional authority to choose who to deport. They have also voiced their outrage over illegal immigrants gaining the right to claim the right to live in the US on the basis of their US born children.
“This unlawful, blatant executive action would legalize more than 5 million people here illegally. This president is single-handedly creating a constitutional crisis and hurting the citizens he took an oath to protect and defend,” said Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert.
Under the new reforms, the following groups of people qualify to get an opportunity to remain in the US:
- Parents of US citizens or lawful permanent residents who have been in the US since January 1, 2010, and who are not ‘enforcement priorities’
- People who were brought to the US illegally as children before the age of 16
But while the reforms are seen as a step in the right directions by immigrant rights activists, their joy may be short lived. It will be several months before the federal government is ready to accept applications under the new scheme, and by then Republicans will have gained control of Congress and in all likelihood have taken steps to reverse the policy.
The president’s speech however, was aimed squarely at winning over all doubters. Quoting the Old Testament, Obama said, “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger…for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.”
The main beneficiaries of this policy are expected to be the illegal immigrants who are parents of children born in the US. These children – disparagingly called ‘anchor babies’ in heated debates on the issue – automatically get US citizenship at the moment, but their parents do not. With the new policy the parents of such children can apply to remain in the US.
Critics have pointed out that Obama’s policy will give legal residency rights to more people than the total number of jobs created by the Obama administration in the six years Obama has been in office.
“Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. That’s just not how our democracy works,” said Ohio Republican and House Speaker John Boehner.
Boehner was supported by South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan. “What the president has done is unprecedented, unconstitutional, and an affront to the American people,” he said.
Sheriff Scott Jones from Sacramento County, California, added his voice to the debate by issuing a plea to Obama, narrating instances of criminals who murdered people after multiple deportations. “The problem I have is I can’t tell which ones are good and which ones are evil, and neither can you. By their very definition they are undocumented. This is not about racism – it is about an increasingly violent and uncertain world in which we are inadequately protected,” said Jones.
Requesting a permanent solution instead of a temporary fix, Jones added “Mr. President, my request to you today can simply be stated: make immigration reform a priority. I do not care which reform you choose. Pathway to citizenship, guest work program, or any of the other innovative programs that currently exist. But deferred action or amnesty is deferring this crisis. It is not reform, it’s simply giving up. It does nothing to make America or the undocumented population any safer,” he said.
Not everyone shares these concerns, however. Praise for the Obama’s speech came from Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, and chairman of the immigration task force with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “President Obama is using his pen to help the country and we celebrate his courage. I am going to sign up the families that are covered, keep fighting for the families that are not covered, and we are going to make the City of Chicago a model for the rest of the country,” he said.
However he pointed out that there was little hope of Obama’s policy being turned into law. “We all must recognize that no executive action is a substitute for legislation, so the fundamental challenge of getting legislation through the Republican-controlled House remains the same,” Gutierrez said.
The policy was also cheered by Labor unions, a major Democratic constituency. “Obama’s push for immigrants’ rights is about the long struggle of our nation to live up to our ideals of welcoming hard-working newcomers and expanding full rights to all who strive for the American Dream,” said George Gresham, president of a Service Employees International Union local, the largest healthcare union in the US.
The new policy will also protect people who arrived in the US illegally as children. The White House has stated that Obama’s policy will protect those “who arrived in the US before turning 16 years old and before January 1, 2010, regardless of how old they are today.” However the White House has repeatedly emphasized that this move is only a temporary solution and that they have asked for backing and support from Congress to make it permanent.
“To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” said the president.
The new policy is based on the belief that there is a link between border security and deportation reprieves. By legalizing millions of US residents, the government will not be obligated to spend valuable resources in tracking, capturing and deporting of such people anymore. This additionally will make resources available to patrol the US-Mexico border, and help in blocking off illegal immigrants at the point most of them enter the US.
Advocates are concerned about the surge in the green card applications and related queries following the announcement of this policy. California-based immigration lawyer Annaluisa Padilla says she has been receiving double the usual number of calls ever since the reforms were announced. “It’s like the golden ticket. Everybody who is calling my office is asking how can I get a work permit under Obama’s program? I am like, there is no Obama program yet,” she said.
Several immigrant support groups are planning information campaigns about the policy, targeting immigrant communities. In Florida, immigrant advocates will start a text messaging system along with a hotline service in Spanish and English to keep their community members informed. The text messaging system will also be implemented by the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.
Clinics will be opened in New York by not-for-profit organizations and immigration advocates to help screen immigrants who qualify under the program. Whereas in Southern California, advocacy groups plan to hold workshops to educate people about the order.
Many illegal immigrants from Mexico are relying on Obama’s policy to help them gain legal status in the US. However, lawyers have been warning them not to get their hopes up too high as Republican lawmakers are most likely going to impede Obama’s plan. “What I am telling my families to do is be prepared for war. We’re going to see a legislative arm do whatever they can to stop the president,” says Jessica Dominguez, immigration lawyer from South California.
Japan fell behind European nations in a ranking of the best places to do business compiled by Bloomberg, underscoring the need for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to take bolder steps to reduce regulation and attract companies.
As Abe heads to Davos to explain his government’s economic and diplomatic policies to investors and world leaders, Japan dropped nine spots to 12th position, in an index based on six criteria including the cost of setting up a business and readiness of the local consumer base. That left it behind countries including Germany, the U.K., the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and France. Hong Kong maintained its top ranking.
Abe has vowed to make Japan the easiest place in the world to do business as part of the economic strategy he has promoted since taking office in December 2012. He has yet to introduce legislation such as corporate-tax cuts that companies have advocated to boost Japan’s competitiveness.
Bloomberg Rankings measured nations on a scale of zero to 100 based on six factors including the costs of labour and material, and hiring and moving goods; the degree of economic integration; and less tangible costs such as inflation and corruption.
While Japan scored 75.6, the same as last year when it achieved third place, it performed worse in ratings on the cost of setting up a business, prices of labor and material and the readiness of the local consumer base. Energy costs for Japan have surged as the yen’s drop of more than 14 percent against the dollar in the past year makes imported petroleum and gas more costly.
Japan is depending more on fossil-fuel imports because of nuclear-plant shutdowns after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. Consumer spending in Asia’s second-largest economy may also slow with a sales tax increase in April.
Germany tied with Australia for fifth place, while France was 11th. The euro area emerged from a record-long recession in the second quarter of 2013 and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said last month there are “encouraging signs” that the region’s crisis is easing.
“The business environment clearly improved, partly because the fears of the euro falling apart began to fade,” said Stephen King, chief global economist at HSBC Holdings Plc. “Japan has obvious constraints with the demographic story — you can print money, you can’t print workers.”
Canada overtook the U.S. to claim second place as corporate tax cuts in recent years and a weaker Canadian dollar against the greenback in 2013 made it more attractive.
In China, where a labour force decline is robbing President Xi Jinping of an engine of three decades of growth, the score for the readiness of the local consumer base fell. The category includes the size of the middle class and household consumption. China slipped four places to rank 28, while the other BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia and India improved on their standings and made it to the top 50.
South Korea topped a separate Bloomberg ranking of the most innovative countries in the world. The government will establish “creative economy centers” this year to provide assistance to small- and medium-sized companies and help people with fresh ideas get financial aid without collateral, President Park Geun Hye said in an interview earlier this year.
Recently, the New York Times reported that the median income in Canada had surpassed the median income in the United States, based on over three decades of international income surveys analysed by LIS (a research group) and by The Upshot.
That analysis showed that despite having a higher median income as recently as 2000, the median income in the United States has now become lesser than the median income of several other countries including Canada. The data also showed that lower-income families in Canada and a majority of northern European countries earn more than their American counterparts do.
Despite having replaced the American middle class as being the world’s richest middle class recently, the Canadian middle class still has its fair share of anxieties. While many members of the Canadian middle class accepted the fact that they were better off comparatively than their American counterparts were, some of their major worries revolved around inequality, housing costs and everyday expenses for transportation and mobile phone plans.
Another thing that worried many members of the middle class in Canada was the thought of whether they would be able to afford college for their children and whether their children would be able to find good jobs thereafter.
The New York Times interviewed several members of the middle class to check how the above-mentioned trends of median middle class incomes globally, affected them. Most expressed their inability to compare their experiences with their American counterparts.
However, several members of the Canadian middle class accepted that they faced lesser financial stress about medical expenses than Americans did. Canadians also accepted that the American versions of the housing bubble and bust were more severe for the Americans than they were for them.
Some of the factors responsible for this extend beyond the obvious economic issues like housing and education, where young Canadian adults are more educated than their American counterparts are. Cultural differences also play a part in affecting the living standards. For example, while 80 percent of Canadian children live with two parents, only 68 percent of American children live with two parents.
However, Canadians are also aware that the American rich still have a massive lead over the Canadian rich. Despite this though, many members of the Canadian middle class preferred their experiences as Canadians. In the words of one of the people interviewed by the New York Times, “I think people in the U.S. seem to struggle more.”
Source: The New York Times