November 14, 2014
President Obama is expected to announce a series of executive orders before the end of the year that would revise the nation’s policies on immigration and provide relief from deportation to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
A White House official said Thursday that the president has not made a decision regarding the specific measures he will take to fix the nation’s immigration system. But according to The Associated Press, which spoke to advocates in touch with the White House on the issue, 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally could benefit from a series of executive actions that would shield immigrants from deportation. The president is also likely to expand his 2-year-old program that protects young immigrants from deportation, the AP report said.
North Jersey immigration advocates, who have been at the forefront of helping local newcomers and organizing demonstrations to demand comprehensive immigration reform, said they were optimistic that Obama will provide some |sort of relief. But they said they expected stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers, who could limit funding to implement any executive order.
“I’m hopeful because it’s too depressing not to be,’’ said Margaret White of Leonia, a member of Community of Friends in Action, a Leonia-based non-profit that works with immigrant day laborers.
New Jersey is home to about 500,000 immigrants living in the country illegally, many of whom could qualify for relief if Obama moves forward with administrative action. In Bergen and Passaic counties, where the population has become increasingly diverse, some immigrants who have lived in the area without legal residency said they were still doubtful that meaningful change would happen despite the news reports.
Elias Garcia, 41, who left Guatemala nine years ago, said he wants to be able to apply for a work permit, and legal residency as well, so he could visit his mother and siblings he left long ago. But he said he has heard the same rhetoric from elected officials before and that nothing changed.
“There’s not too many people speaking about this because we have been victims of deception before, and we won’t believe it until we see something real,’’ said Garcia, of North Bergen, the treasurer of MIGUA, a national organization that helps Guatemalan immigrants living in the United States.
Republican leaders have warned the president not to take unilateral action on immigration, and they say Obama has politicized the issue. Republicans now say they won’t support immigration reform legislation, which would create a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally, without a guarantee to the secure borders.
While lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this week after midterm elections in which the GOP retook the Senate, conservatives made plans to push for language in must-pass spending bills to block the president. Some Republican leaders warned of another government shutdown like last year over Obama’s health care plan.
“We’re going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path. This is the wrong way to govern. This is exactly what the American people said on Election Day they didn’t want,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday. “And so, all the options are on the table.”
Opponents of amnesty said any move to help immigrants living in the country illegally would be rewarding lawbreakers and encouraging more illegal immigration. On Thursday, Californians for Population Stabilization, an organization that has been vocal against any executive order, urged the public to contact their legislators and insist they cut funding for implementing any change.
Joel and Susan Winton, founders of the West Bergen Tea Party, said Obama needs to concentrate on securing the border and then on enforcing the country’s immigration laws.
“The first step is to close the border,’’ said Joel Winton, of Wyckoff. “And then you can talk, but when you pass laws that you don’t follow, and when you don’t implement anything that is already on the books, you don’t really need anything new, you just have to enforce what is there.”
The immigration advocates, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity ahead of a public announcement, said final details of the plan remained in flux. But the White House is likely to include parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, stipulating that they’ve resided in the U.S. for some period of time — possibly as little as five years. That group totals around 3.8 million people, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Although Obama is not able to grant citizenship or permanent resident green cards on his own without congressional involvement, he can offer temporary protection from deportation along with work authorization.
Adjustments also are expected to the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allowed immigrants under 31 who had arrived before June 2007 to apply for a reprieve from deportation and a work permit.
More than 600,000 young immigrants have benefited from the program. Removing the upper age limit is one option under consideration, according to advocates — making an additional 200,000 people eligible.
Other adjustments to immigration programs are expected, including possible changes to visa programs to speed up issuance of visas for high-tech workers or others.
Changes are also expected on the law enforcement side, including to a controversial program called Secure Communities that hands over people booked for local crimes to federal immigration authorities.
A former administration official with knowledge of the plans said that program would be eliminated or at least renamed, although some of the concepts would remain. Immigration authorities would also be given different guidelines on what offenses would cause someone to be detained, said the former official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to disclose private details.
“The idea is if there are limited resources available for enforcement, by setting enforcement priorities, then they can prevent the removal of people, for example, who don’t have criminal records, or people who have strong ties to the United States,’’ said Muneer I. Ahmad, a clinical professor of law at Yale Law School.
Any action taken by the president could be reversed by the next person elected president, which is why immigration advocates want permanent change.
“This is the only time and the only hope we have,’’ said Sally Pillay, program director for First Friends of New York and New Jersey, an organization that sends volunteers to visit immigrant detainees including at the Bergen County Jail.
Several day laborers standing on a street in Palisades Park looking for work one recent morning said they were doubtful that they would be receiving any help from the president.
Elmer Luc, who lives in West New York and seeks work in Palisades Park every morning, doesn’t think the government will do anything.
“For me, Barack Obama, I just don’t have faith in him,” said Luc, who left Guatemala and crossed the southwest border 10 years ago.
In Passaic, home to many Mexicans from Puebla, views were similar. Veronica Espindola and Blanca Izelo laughed at the possibility that they might benefit from an executive order.
“Now with the Republicans’ win, it will be even less that anything will happen,” said Espindola, who left Mexico 27 years ago. “It’s been years of the same thing, and nothing happens.”
Izelo left Mexico 15 years ago and has four American-born children. Earlier this week, she was skeptical, but after news reports predicted an announcement as early as next week, her outlook changed.
“Let’s hope it’s true,” she said. “This could benefit our children, and ourselves; it could open doors for us for better job opportunities, and a better future for us.”
Staff Writer Herb Jackson contributed to this article, which contains material from The Associated Press.