A unified family is an important social determinant of health; and immigration issues are often overlooked as a health issue. But last Friday, President Barack Obama made a bold move to side step a contentious Congress on an issue that many have waited over a decade to see something done- and helped unit families.
The President announced a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy that will allow certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children who do not present a risk to national security or public safety and meet several key criteria to be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceeding. Those eligible for this relief will have deportation action deferred for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization.
So who is eligible?
Under this directive, those who demonstrate that they meet the following criteria will be eligible for an exercise of discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case by case basis.
- Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
- Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
- Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
- Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
- Are not above the age of thirty.
Is this a done deal?
No, the use of prosecutorial discretion confers no substantive right, immigration status, or pathway to citizenship. Further, there is a risk that the DHS does not grant such requests. Only the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.
So is the Immigrant community excited?
Absolutely, and yet the community needs to remain vigilant of enforcement and active in the conversation through organizations such as the National Council of La Raza and other national immigration reform advocates that respect the positive contributions that immigrants make and leverage those contributions to shape a fair and equitable immigration policy that adds value to all United States citizenship.
Will there be backlash?
You betcha! The President’s announcement during an election year seems to some to be an attempt to galvanize weary Latino supporters who have had their faith shaken as the President failed to tackle this issue earlier in his term, particularly before he used his political capital to reform Healthcare.
On a national call two years ago organized by Representative Luis Gutierrez representing Illinois’ 4th District, as I listened, it was clear Latino pro-immigration reformers were advocating that the President begin his transformational leadership on the issue of immigration to then essentially guarantee the support of Latinos as he moved onto Healthcare and other lofty changes for the betterment of the nation. As we all know that didn’t happen and here we are.
Understanding that this policy announcement is a little late coming, in all fairness Latino leaders recognize that any change in this issue will only come from President Obama and if the outcome of the election is Mr. Romney, it will likely never see the light of day. Yet again Latinos will continue to have their political power hedged by republican ideology applied to the broken and racially discriminatory immigration system that works for some and not others.
There also will be Republican backlash, particularly and ironically from those that have been working to change the immigration system. Those that refuse to see the value of immigrants are also upset but for an entirely different reason because the President’s re-election campaign will benefit from this move among Latino voters and they will not. I imagine more Latino courting will be happening in the months to come and while it lasts we Latino leaders, in touch with the impact of this broken system, should hold our “courters” accountable for leaving us at the alter for years.
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