Bittersweet: Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration

Bittersweet: Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration
Image by Flickr user Steve Rhodes

By the Community Alliance

On Nov. 20, President Barack Obama issued another historical executive action on immigration that was received with a mix of happiness, sadness and anger. This bittersweet executive action will affect roughly 5 million undocumented people here in the United States. With the possibility of being reversed by a new president in two years, the executive action will apply only to those who have been in the United States for five years or more, parents of U.S. citizen children and permanent residents, and those that came to the United States at a young age (under 18).

The specifics and major components of Obama’s executive action would extend deportation protection for parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent resident children born on or before Nov. 20 of this year; parents who have children after that date will not be eligible. Parents of children who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA (which was extended another two years), are not eligible.

There is a Deferred Action for parents that will allow them to be eligible for work and be granted relief from deportation, but there’s a catch. To obtain the temporary work permit, parents must demonstrate that they’ve been in the United States consistently for the past five years and have no criminal background, especially felonies. The temporary work permit does not provide legal status; it’s just temporary relief from deportation and there is no pathway toward citizenship. In addition, Obama vowed to continue pumping money to secure the U.S. and Mexican border. As expected, the reactions were mixed.

For starters, none of the mainstream television stations aired Obama’s deliverance of his executive action. Apparently, entertainment trumps news that will affect 5 million people in the United States—no big deal. Republicans and other conservative, right-wing critics saw this as a threat to their privileged way of life and un-democratic. Many states and individuals, like Texas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, have or are expected to file lawsuits against the government in a show of defiance against who they are now calling “Emperor Obama.” On the other side of the spectrum, longtime immigrant rights advocates and Obama supporters saw this as a big step in the right direction.

In full-fledged support, unions, faith, civil and immigrant rights organizations came out to celebrate and rejoice saying that Obama “kept his promise” and congratulated this “bold” move; vowing to support Obama and defend his executive order. This has been years in the making, and the blood, sweat and tears of advocates and organizers paid off—well sort of.

Within progressive/left circles, some felt disillusioned and frustrated with Obama’s executive action. Like previously mentioned, it is bittersweet given its stringent eligibility requirements that will help out 5 million people, but leave behind 7+ million who may not qualify already here, and those that come after Nov. 20. This will continue to separate families, and it leaves out undocumented LGBTQ people, again. Other criticisms are that it is temporary and can be overturned by the next president and the border will be militarized even more, negatively affecting those living in border towns.

It’s evident that Obama’s executive action on immigration is polarizing. Wherever you stand on the immigration spectrum, one thing is for sure, this will be short lived because it can be overturned easily by the next President. Until there is a permanent solution to improving the quality of life for millions of undocumented people here in the United States that pick and cook our food, watch our kids, cut our yards, and clean and build our homes, we cannot be complacent or content. We need to continue mobilizing and pushing toward the day when all people are respected and treated humanely, forever.


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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