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Obama issues executive order on immigration reform

In a move long hoped for by the nation’s Hispanic population and others in the United States and elsewhere, President Obama has outlined a three-part plan to begin an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system and again called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration-reform legislation.

Obama announced his executive order in an address to the nation on Nov. 20, saying he was taking steps through “actions I have the legal authority to take as president – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.”

Obama’s action reportedly could affect as many as 5 million undocumented U.S. residents.

“First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings and speed the return of those who do cross over,” Obama said. “Second, I’ll make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.

Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.”

Obama further addressed the third step “because it generates the most passion and controversy.”

“Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we’re also a nation of laws,” he said. “Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable, especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent, and that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security.”

Immigration reform, Obama said, is about “felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working to provide for her kids.”

“We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day,” he said. “But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is millions of immigrants in every state, of every race and nationality, still live here illegally. Now, let’s be honest: Tracking down, rounding up and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams and patriotism are just like ours.”

Undocumented immigrants who’ve been in the U.S. for more than five years and who have children who are legal residents can apply to stay in the country temporarily “without fear of deportation” if they register, pass a criminal background check and pay their share of taxes, Obama said.

“You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” the president said. “This doesn’t apply to anyone who has come to this country recently (or) who might come illegally in the future. (It) doesn’t grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently or offer the same benefits citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.

“Some of the critics of this action call this amnesty,” Obama said. “It’s not. … If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught just went up.”

Obama said that his answer to members of Congress who questioned his authority to use an executive order to address the immigration problem was that they should pass a bipartisan bill to completely overhaul the immigration system.

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

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said recently that “this isn’t about politics, and it’s not about our party. This is about doing the right thing for our country. And I’ll just say this: we’re going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path. All the options are on the table. … This is the wrong way to govern.”

Janell Avila, a partner with the Solorio & Avila Law Firm in Mission, told Kansas City Hispanic News before Obama’s announcement that she would support his unilateral action.

“Also, I believe action should’ve been taken when president Obama was first elected, when the Democrats had control of the House and Senate, and they did not fulfill the promise to the Latino community. I think it’s probable that the Senate would propose legislation (by year’s end or early next year), but the House probably won’t. … I think any action regarding family unity makes very good sense,” said Avila.

In a news release after Obama’s address, Democrat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, said the U.S. immigration system was broken, “and I support a comprehensive plan to fix it, but executive orders aren’t the way to do it.”

“The Senate’s comprehen-sive plan (late last year) got overwhelming bipartisan approval, and Republicans in the U.S. House have sat on their hands for a year and a half, refusing to even consider that bill,” she said. “They should quit stalling, get to work, and do their jobs – debate the comprehensive plan that passed the Senate with a two-thirds margin.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, said in a release after Obama’s announcement that the president’s “executive order to effectively grant amnesty to an estimated four million illegal immigrants” was “another display of his blatant disregard for our constitutional system, the American people and all those who went through the extensive process of becoming citizens the correct way.”

“Amnesty rewards those who have cheated the system and punishes those who played by the rules and went through the legal immigration process,” Graves said. “I strongly oppose this amnesty order and the president’s attempt to not only bypass the legislative process, but the American people. We are a nation of laws, and no one is above the rule of law – not this president or any president.”

But the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, lauded Obama for his action.

“This action is a victory for the president, a victory for millions of American families and workers, a victory for our country, and a victory for common sense,” NCLR president and CEO Janet Murguía said in a news release. “The president has exercised the leadership we needed him to, acting in the country’s best interest and opening a path for Republicans in Congress to legislate on the issue. …

“To those who say they will fight this action tooth and nail, let me be clear: You are not picking a fight with the president,” Murguía said. “You are picking a fight with the millions of American families who will find some relief – even if temporary – while extremists in Congress squandered the best opportunity our country has had in decades to resolve this issue.”

In an interview before Obama’s announcement, Missouri U.S. 5th District Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, said, “The bottom line is that the president’s interest in shielding millions of immigrants from deportation and thus separating families in a way that is harmful to not only them but to our country” comports with the widespread desire in the U.S. for immigration reform.

“It’s also worth noting that if the leadership in Congress is serious about immigration reform, then legislation always exceeds executive orders,” Cleaver said. “Congress could come right back in January or February and pass immigration reform, and that would become the law. This president has issued the fewest executive orders of most presidents of the last 100 years.”

Businessman Robert Barrientos facilitates programming for the Latinos of Tomorrow, a Latino student member program of the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Collaborative.

“(Obama) needs to let the Republicans come up with legislation,” Barrientos said. “I would like to see a legislative package come through and see if the Republicans do want to reform immigration. I think they should have a shot at it. The Republicans have more to lose in 2016 because of the presidential campaign and the risk of losing the majority in the Senate.”

“We haven’t had true immigration reform since 1965,” Barrientos added. “That’s when, for example, Chinese who came here on work visas and who weren’t eligible for citizenship were given eligibility.”

On November 21, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpalo, filed a lawsuit Thursday night against President Barack Obama on behalf of Maricopa County, to oppose Obama’s unilateral grant of amnesty. The damaging impact of illegal immigration upon Sheriff Arpaio’s community and the burden on his law enforcement resources, as with other border states, have been extensively reported for years.

Everyone is asking what comes next. Well, we at Freedom Watch are asking for a court injunction to block implementation of Obama’s “executive action,” pending review. Right now, news reports of Obama’s speech throughout Mexico, Central America and South America are suggesting that anyone can illegally enter the United States and then get a job here. Not really understanding U.S. law, reporters will lose the details in translation. Sheriff Arpaio’s community will be swamped with a flood of new arrivals, regardless of whether or not they qualify.