On June 15, a Department of Homeland Security memorandum by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced President Obama’s immigration policy directive, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which goes into effect today.
Undocumented immigrant advocacy groups, immigration lawyers, and illegal/undocumented immigrants have been feverishly preparing since the announcement. Most of these efforts concentrated on educating the public about Deferred Action, and beginning the process of collecting required documentation.
At the time, these stakeholders were preparing for an application they had not yet seen, an unknown application submission deadline, potentially overwhelming numbers of applicants, and other unknown variables that may yet come as a shocking surprise with the actual release of the application.
According to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (SCIS) website, starting on August 15, illegal/undocumented immigrants may request deferred action for deportation if they meet the following requirements: Note: “Undocumented” and “illegal” are two politically charged terms used to describe immigrants who are residing in the United States without legal paperwork and status. We have chosen to use “undocumented” for the simplicity of reading the article and not to deflect attention from the fact that “undocumented immigrants” are committing a crime by residing in the United States illegally.
1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
2. Came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday;
3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
5. Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or their lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
Secretary Napolitano’s reasoning behind these requirements is to focus enforcement resources on dangerous individuals and not to expend scarce resources on those who meet the above guidelines.
Bob Dane, Communications Director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, expects a huge underground black market emerging, selling everything from phony rent receipts to prove residency and even forged high school diplomas.
“There are not enough bureaucrats in all of Washington to (filter through) phony applications,” Dane said in an interview. “How is the CIS ever going to keep up and do background checks on anyone? They’re simply going to rubber stamp all of this.” He said that due to the sheer volume of applications, it is inevitable that national security threats will slip through the cracks.
The Obama administration and local undocumented immigrant advocacy groups have also warned that the underground black market will try to take advantage of deferral applicants’ desperation by offering illegitimate services that are ultimately injurious to application acceptance.
Republicans vs. Democrats
Following Secretary Napolitano’s memo on June 15, there was an immediate backlash from the Republican party claiming that the directive was a politically driven move by the Obama administration to garner Latino votes for the upcoming election.
Camilla Bortolleto, co-founder of CT Students for a DREAM, agreed, but thinks Republican criticisms are also politically driven.
“To be totally honest, I do think it’s a little bit of both,” Bortolleto said in an interview. “The reason why the Obama administration did this at this time is because it’s a really good time to do it, because the election is coming up and both parties are really vying for the Latino vote.”
Dane has a similar mindset:
“Make no mistake, both sides play political games with immigration. That may be the worst part of immigration. It’s use of bipolar political parties. It is an illegitimate use of immigration policy to use it for political means.”
Dane and other critics, such as Kris Kobach, Immigration Advisor for the Romney presidential campaign, have focused criticisms on the issue of executive vs. legislative authority.
Dane thinks Deferred Action was a deliberate strategy by the Obama administration. “When the President took office he knew there was no appetite for the DREAM Act amnesty. He put regulations into place, bypassing Congress’ authority to do that and then ultimately usurped Congressional authority to regulate immigration.”
“Earlier this year, the Republican Senator Mark Rubio, he proposed his own weak Republican version of the DREAM Act, Bortolleto said. “He proposed that students can apply for work permits but prevent them from ever getting citizenship or green cards. I think that was a big push for Obama. I think he realized, ‘We can’t let Republicans do this. I think that the eventual goal of the Obama administration is to pass the DREAM Act or some kind of comprehensive immigration reform.”
Putting aside any conscious avoidance of legislative process, the policy directive highlights an important organ in our ever evolving American democracy. The line between executive power and legislative process is blurred by a massive, overwhelmed bureaucracy, and venomous political polarization that often clouds the subject at hand.
Republicans and Democrats, and supporters and critics of the directive, will both agree though, that this policy directive is not simply an administrative whim, it is a decision that deeply affects the emotions and lives of all Americans.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The most obvious benefactors of this policy directive are undocumented immigrants. Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, Executive Director of the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury, Conn, said in an interview that many applicants have been here as young children, or even for their entire lives.
“As a child in the school system they’ve never been discriminated against,” Alvarez-DiMarzo explained. “As you get older in the system and you graduate and try to go to college and go to work you realize ‘I can’t work’ ‘I can’t get financial aid’ ‘I don’t have status.’ That’s like culture shock for kids who have been here their whole lives.”
“…being undocumented has been living without a prospect of a future,” remarked Bortolleto. “I was slowly starting to understand as I grew up that even though I lived most of my life here…that I would have no future here and no life here. I wouldn’t be able to get a job. I wouldn’t be able to get a career. I wouldn’t be able to have an actual life… now we know we can get a work permit and we don’t have to be afraid anymore. I’ll be able to drive and won’t be scared when I see the police because I know they’ll try to help me and not deport me.”
Dane said stories like the one above look good from the standpoint of an undocumented immigrant being granted amnesty, but there is a definite effect on American citizens who are struggling for scarce resources in a poor economy. He explained that U.S. citizens, who face a most recent U-6 unemployment rate (those without work, marginally attached workers, and those working part time for economic reasons) of 22.9% (~71 million), are facing even more stiff competition for scarce jobs.
“There is still about seven and a half million illegal aliens still occupying jobs that belong to U.S. residents. What is that…displacement? Is it job displacement for a native born worker or is it the wage suppression?” Dane asked.
A popular defense of this claim is that undocumented immigrants are taking low paying jobs Americans are not interested in.
A part-time construction worker from Sandy Hook, Conn, who wishes to remain anonymous, disagreed with the defense.
“I can’t find a job getting paid a decent amount of money because there’s Mexicans that are willing to work for it,” the worker said in an interview. “Instead of supporting local residents who are looking for jobs, they’re bringing in (Latinos) from Danbury. This large housing development was going up in Sandy Hook and they claimed that it was going to bring allot of work to the Sandy Hook residents. If you drive by like every (expletive) day there’s 40 Mexicans sitting on top of the hill.”
Similarly, Dane pointed out that while taking millions of American citizen’s jobs, undocumented immigration is also interjecting a huge amount of poorly skilled, poorly educated and heavily government dependent immigrants into the country.
According to A Profile of America’s Foreign-Born Population, a 2012 study by the Center for Immigration Studies, 43% of immigrants who have been in the country for a decade or more are still on welfare. Dane said that in addition to this dependence, undocumented workers utilize scarce economic resources through use of healthcare, incarceration, and education.
Bortolleto disagreed, saying that this is a common misconception. “The funny thing is that people say that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes and get health benefits,” she said. “But I found that it’s the other way around. We pay taxes and don’t get any of the benefits. So we pay into social security but don’t get any of the social security benefits. Most people don’t get healthcare; they don’t get any social service, like food stamps.”
Bortolleto thinks that not only are undocumented immigrants not draining these perceived economic resources, but are value adding contributors to the United States economy. “Most undocumented students feel that they have to work so much harder than American students because we don’t take it for granted,” she explained. “We know the opportunity that we have.”
Lisa Rodriguez, an Immigration Lawyer for the Law Office of Erin O’Neil Baker LLC in Hartford, Conn., agreed with Bortolleto’s assertion.
“There’s this belief that there’s a lot of talent here in the United States, that if they’re given permit work authorization cards they’re able to then turn it into a benefit for the government, for the state,” Rodriquez said in an interview. “They can be productive. So there’s that side of it. That we’re taking this skilled youth and making it work for us.”
Bob Dane referred to this as a sort of magical, mythical thinking. “Just because someone has a GED who is residing here illegally, that they are going to somehow instantly revitalize the economy. Even with a community college degree in today’s job market you’re running at a huge disadvantage.”
Dane added that the mass immigration which served our needs in the better half of the last century is no longer needed to fuel the economy, and that it serves as a detriment to preserving what we have remaining. He said that immigration policy needs to be regarded as something that affects United States residents 50-100 years down the road.
“Years ago we had wide open borders, towns to populate, factories and infrastructure to build and virtually an endless amount of natural resources,” Dane reminisced. “Where are we going to be 50 years from now? By the year 2050 we’ll have nearly a half billion people. That takes up water, deforestation, environment, and resource depletion.”
To further intensify resource depletion, Dane said the policy directive is sending a worldwide message that will drastically increase the number of undocumented immigrants who enter the country.
“It is sending a message loud and clear that get in to the U.S. any way you can, keep your head down, don’t commit another crime, other than the immigration violation, and you’ll be ready to go,” Dane said. “It is a massive global message that America regards the immigration law violation as simply inconsequential in and of itself.”
The Slight, The Uncertainty
It’s clear that Obama’s policy directive transcends basic administrative operations. It is an executive decision that profoundly affects all Americans, be they undocumented or legal citizens.
“You have to be very alarmed at the manner in which the president unconstitutionally, illegitimately bypassed Congress,” stated Dane. ” Basically using the Presidential Office to legislate something that Congress as recently as 2010 shut down. This is the bedrock foundation of our Constitution.”
Regarding the executive power to make such an important and far reaching decision, Bortolleto said “he should generally not do it.”
Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow and Manager of the Civil Justice Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation, stated in an interview that we cannot make exceptions to the American legal process because it suits our needs today.
“They (undocumented immigrants) may like it now (Deferred Action), but they are not thinking about the long term consequences,” said von Spakovsky. “They are paving the ground for a president doing things outside of the law they don’t like and not having a legal recourse against it. That is extremely dangerous.”
Dane was asked if he could provide a parallel example of executive branch operations stepping on the toes of legislative authority, but he couldn’t come up with an answer.
An informational panel on Deferred Action held by the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury last month provided the best example:
Alvarez-DiMarzo was asked if after submitting their forms, applicants will then be on the radar, and subject to deportation proceedings. She said it’s all up in the air. “Depending on who the new president is this may change. Depending if the Congress comes back they may decide to take this to the courts. It can change, it can morph into so many different things.”
According to the USCIS website, “Information provided in this request is protected from disclosure to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings.”
However, the statement comes with the following disclaimer:
“This policy, which may be modified, superseded, or rescinded at any time without notice, is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law by any party in any administrative, civil, or criminal matter.”
The executive order may be progressive, historic, bold, and in the best interests of the American people – but when it bypasses the legislative process, it may in fact end up hurting the very people it was intended to help. It is clearly stated on the USCIS website – undocumented immigrants may very well be walking into a trap.
“I think that’s definitely a concern that a lot of people have because it’s not a law, it’s just a policy directive, so it’s not permanent,” said Bortolleno. “That is something that a lot of students are very worried about.”
Rodriguez agreed , saying “It is very scary for alot of people.”
von Spakovsky, putting himself in the shoes of an undocumented immigrant said, “I’d be concerned because it does not have the force and effect of a rule of law…I’d probably be pretty worried.”
Where the U.S. government will take this act is uncertain. What we do know is that there are many unanswered questions. Fear of deportation will not be abated by this executive order, and may in fact be amplified. More significantly, Deferred Action brings into focus the philosophy of the American democratic system and legislative process.