Nearly 5 Million Undocumented Immigrants Benefit from President Obama’s Executive Action

The ongoing debate regarding the nearly 11 million undocumented people living in the United States played out in dramatic form on Thursday evening. President Barack Obama made a live address to the nation announcing his executive actions on immigration reform. The speech was a culmination of nearly six years of contentiousness between the White House and, well, everyone else.

From the very beginning of his presidency, President Obama was at odds over his approach to immigration. The first criticism came from his most ardent supporters due to his continuation, and expansion, of the Secure Communities Program that started under former President George W. Bush. Anyone who was booked into a jail, whether it was a simple traffic violation or a more serious offense, was fingerprinted. The information was shared with federal authorities, who would then match them against a database of immigrants, both legal and undocumented.

This led to a significant increase in deportations, causing immigrants rights groups to dub the president the “deporter-in-chief.”

The move was a political calculation on the part of the White House to curb criticism from opponents ready to label the president soft on border security and illegal immigration. After the 2010 midterms, where Republicans gained the majority in the House, the immigration debate became more heated and difficult. Nevertheless, the Senate was able to pass a sweeping bipartisan reform bill in 2013 that gave those already here without legal status a chance to stay and pursue citizenship. It also altered provisions for family sponsorship, eased rules for employers to hire foreign workers and required an extensive increase in border security.

The bill never made it out of the House.

This summer, the president promised to use the power of the executive branch wherever possible to address the decades’ long issues with immigration. He had already done so in 2012, when he signed an executive order establishing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. That allowed the issuing of work permits and protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 who came here as children. This enabled them to live and work temporarily with the option to renew their permits every two years.

As many of those permits are being renewed, the president has, once again, been forced to act where Congress has not.

In the nearly 15 minute speech, the president reminded the nation of the ongoing issues and the steps that have been taken to improve the system. He pointed out that Congress has had the opportunity to take action, and that the 2013 Senate bill is still awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives. He also said he was ready to follow up on his promise from this summer and do what he could via executive action.

He announced the continuation and expansion of the DACA program. He eliminated the age cap of 31, and opened it to anyone who arrived in the U.S. illegally prior to the age of 16, in the country for at least five years, even if they were over the age of 31 in 2012. Furthermore, those adults that came in as children and have lived here since January 1, 2010 are also available for the temporary two year visa and the subsequent renewals.

These newly eligible immigrants can begin applying next year.

Undocumented parents with children that qualify under DACA or who have children that are American citizens can also apply for a temporary visa if they have lived in the country for five years or more. To do so, they must register with the government, pass a criminal background check and pay all applicable taxes. While this will not grant a path to citizenship or otherwise bestow rights to those that are legal residents, they can now remain in the country without fear of deportation.

The immigrants that qualify for these visas also have greater flexibility to travel outside of the country. For those here on employment visas, they will be able to change jobs more easily. Their spouses will also find it easier to get visas.

The new actions include a new approach to deportations by focusing strictly on criminals and not families. While many local cities and states were not participating in the Secure Communities Program, the focus on criminal activity will reduce the number of undocumented immigrants that were deported for minor infractions. There will also be immigration enforcement reform, as well as continued focus on border security.

The order still falls short of the 2013 Senate bill. The president does not have legal authority to allow parents of the children who qualified for DACA in 2012 to apply for temporary status. Immigrants cannot be granted permanent status by the president’s order, as that can only be done by Congress. And unlike the Senate bill, those immigrants already deported can not apply to return. Most importantly, no one who has been here for less than five years is eligible for any of these reprieves.

It is expected that these actions will allow almost 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. legally, at least temporarily.

While critics are suggesting that the president’s actions are illegal, he has simply followed a long line of previous president exercising similar authority. Furthermore, legal scholars agree that this falls under the authority of the Executive Branch. In fact, President Ronald Reagan, the last president credited with significant immigration reform, perfected the law passed by Congress in 1985, by issuing an executive order.

President Reagan’s order also shielded family members from deportation.

The president acknowledged his critics would be unhappy with his moves, but said that he was willing to work with them to find a permanent solution. “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,” he reminded them.

He continued, “The day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.”

The ball is now in Congress’ court. Again.

Photo credit: Getty images via Thinkstock


Margaret Goodman
Margaret G1 years ago

I've heard that that there has been no net undocumented immigration from Mexico into the United States since 2007. The reason? There are no jobs.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret G1 years ago

I've read that Ronald Reagan's father was an undocumented immigrant from Canada.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret G1 years ago

Barbara Griffith wrote of her wanting to keep undocumented immigrants out of the United States, " ...the legal citizens did do the jobs in meat packing houses that used to be union, the building industry that used to hire legal workers at good wages until they found out that they could hire illegals at half price, ... "
It seems to me that the problem is the greedy employers.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret G1 years ago

Carol M. wrote as an argument for deporting undocumented immigrants, " ... 21 radio stations in L.A. are Spanish speaking" How do Spanish speaking radio stations hurt you, Carol?

Read more:

Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

donald Baumgartner

Good news !!!

Vera M.
Vera M3 years ago

We never got pay..And all the people use this every day and people have nothing but we nothing THIS IS WHAT NO ONE TALK ABOUT. Things INVENTED By African-Americans>>>air conditioning unit: Frederick M. Jones; July 12, 1949 almanac: Benjamin Banneker; Approx 1791 auto cut-off switch: Granville T. Woods; January 1,1839 auto fishing devise: G. Cook; May 30, 1899
automatic gear shift: Richard Spikes; February 28, 1932
baby buggy: W.H. Richardson; June 18, 1899
bicycle frame: L.R. Johnson; Octber 10, 1899
biscuit cutter: A.P. Ashbourne; November 30, 1875
blood plasma bag: Charles Drew; Approx. 1945
cellular phone: Henry T. Sampson; July 6, 1971 chamber commode: T. Elkins; January 3, 1897
clothes dryer: G. T. Sampson; June 6, 1862
curtain rod: S. R. Scratton; November 30, 1889
curtain rod support: William S. Grant; August 4, 1896
door knob: O. Dorsey; December 10, 1878
door stop: O. Dorsey; December 10, 1878
dust pan: Lawrence P. Ray; August 3, 1897
egg beater: Willie Johnson; February 5, 1884
electric lampbulb: Lewis
elevator: Alexander Miles; October 11, 1867
eye protector: P. Johnson; November 2, 1880
fire escape ladder: J. W. Winters; May 7, 1878
fire extinguisher: T. Marshall; October 26, 1872
folding bed: L. C. Bailey; July 18, 1899
folding chair: Brody & Surgwar; June 11, 1889
fountain pen: W. B. Purvis; January 7, 1890 furniture caster: O. A. Fisher; 1878
gas mask: Garrett Morgan; October 13, 1914
golf tee: T. Grant; December

Vera M.
Vera M3 years ago

the immigrants, not taking any thing from you..They all over Tex.. The white ran away from the U.S.THEY WHERE ALL READY HERE..and when there 4 too 9 people working and making 8.00 and hr by 9 people that a lot of money so when your kids want every thng you can't get them to make there bed.and your have left the U.S. and they are paying them 1.00 or 2.00 hr will you work for that??? And there lot of people are not good worker..And the rich people want the best people.the people are from China, and all over the world are taking your jobs they are smarter.And if you do not have a job go back to school.....When the gas was 7.00 we said nothing so now you do not have a job to bad.....

Vera M.
Vera M3 years ago

The thing that get me is people that about no job.....We the people of any color had jobs 1.00 a hr we said nothing..We took jobs no one wanted..we had to be the N word everyday...Made fun of...We con not buy a home why the red line area's so what did we said nothing...But we got a white Law. and sent him to white area to buy home.and the white wonder how did we get there..are kids went to all white schools..We work in people homes..BUT WE HAD GRANDMOTHER, KIDS .AT NIGHT.GRANDFATHER. WORKING TO. SO WHEN YOU HAVE 4 PEOPLE WORKING WE HAD MONEY BUY THINGS AND HOME. AND SENDING TO GOOD SCHOOLS..WE HAD TO 3 OR 4 PEOPLE GOT IN CAR AND WHEN TO WORK WE WE HAD ONE CAR.. AND WHEN WE WENT TO BUY THE DID NOT HELP US MADE FUN OF US..WE HAD TO SEND ARE WHITE FRIENDS.. TO GO BUY THE CAR..WE SAID NOTHING...MY MOM WORK WE WORK AND SHE WAS ABLE TO BUY 7 HOTEL, aND THEN 4 HOMES IN THE WHITE AREA..AND RENT THEM THEY NOT KNOW BLACK PEOPLE O. TOWN THE HOUSE..bUT WE MADE IT AND STILL MAKING IT.aND WHAT THE CHEROKEE WOMAN AND WHAT THE PEOPLE SAYING IS TRUE TOO.
.The Cherokees were raising corn as early as 1,000 BC. Before European contact the Cherokees were already participating in a thanksgiving ceremony; the most important ceremony of the year, called the "Green Corn Ceremony." >>>What you said is trueand when the whites came they made us sick too...AND TOOK ARE LAND TO.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

This means there a 5 million more people competing for our jobs! My hubby hasn't worked in 3 years because he can't find a job. I am thankful for his pension! We are too young for Social Security.