Immigration Reform Under Obama’s Presidency

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When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, his platform included broad immigration reform. Immigrant groups around the nation supported Obama and believed that he would provide crucial and necessary change in American immigration policy. However, these immigrant groups were left disillusioned by his presidency. In the face of growing political pressure as he prepares to run for president in 2012, Obama is reviving conversation about the issue.

This time, however, both immigrant voters and immigrant right advocates are more speculative of Obama’s agenda. His failure to provide comprehensive immigration reform during his presidency has made people wary of his ability to apply the necessary pressure in government to bring about change. Furthermore, now that there is a Republican majority in the House, some reforms will be much more difficult to put into effect during the next term. Representative Luis Guiterrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, talked to Lou Dobbs on Fox News about his disappointment with Obama. Guiterrez said, “The president does have a great jeopardy at loosing mass amounts of support from immigrants and the Latin American community because the president has not brought about comprehensive reform. We need some balance in our enforcement procedures.” Guiterrez argues that balance in American enforcement procedures would include things such as granting citizenship to spouses of immigrant soldiers or passing legislation such as the widely discussed and contended DREAM act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act).

The DREAM act, if passed, would grand legal status to illegal children under the age of sixteen who were brought into the United States by illegal parents. It was recently re-introduced to the Senate and the United States of Representative on March 26, 2009 but was blocked by a Senate fillibuster on December 18, 2010.

Margarita Manduley is an immigration lawyer at the International Legal Alliance Group. Based in Los Angeles, where there is the highest concentration of Latin American immigrants in the country, Manduley has defended over sixty cases in the last three years. Manduley explains that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is in charge of deporting illegal aliens, states that their purpose is to deport illegal immigrants guilty of serious crimes. She says that in reality the vast majority of immigrants are deported because of fraud in such cases where immigrants use fake social securities in order to work. Manduley is frustrated by the current system. “Many immigrants have done everything by the book after the initial mistake of coming unlawfully into this country,” she explains. “And many of them came here because their countries were not offering a way to support their families.”

She says an even bigger crime is being committed against the children of illegal immigrants. There are children who came into this country against their will and are now unable to get jobs despite the fact they are law- upholding and contributing citizens. Manduley gives the example of a girl who was brought here when she was three and despite graduating with a Bachelors Degree and honors is unable to get a job in the country because of her parent’s decisions. Manduley argues that children such as her should have the chance to apply for legal standing.

Currently, permanent residency is difficult even for lawful immigrants. Marcelo Castro, an Investment Banker at Banco Santander, says that he and his family “were privileged in [their] path to citizenship but it took [them] over ten years from point A to point B.” Castro, his wife and his three children (the reporter included) had five types of Visas before they were qualified to apply for a greencard which would make them legal permanent residents of the United States. For over ten years, Castro had to renew the family’s visa every six months in an embassy in Mexico and pay taxes without being able to vote.

Castro has no regrets but he does think that there should be ways for others to have a path to citizenship. “There are never good solutions, there are only trade offs,” he explains. One trade off that he thinks is judicious is passing legislation like the DREAM act. “These kids grew up here, they went to school here. You can’t create this class of invisible people that are in limbo. It was not their fault.”

An attorney with the Executive Office for Immigration Review, who would prefer to remain unnamed due to strict ethics rules at the Department of Justice, explains that “There are currently approximately 42,000 cases pending before 33 immigration judges at the New York Immigration Court, the Varick Street detained facility, and three upstate courts.” The attorney explains that a large number of cases are asylum cases, and there are many other causes for deportation.  “There are many, many, many reasons why someone can be removed from the country,” the attorney explains. “The U.S. immigration law is not particularly forgiving at times.” The Attorney points out that the last big change in immigration reform happened in 2005 with the Real ID act which was an Act of Congress that modified U.S. federal law pertaining to security, authentication and issuance procedures standards for the state driver’s licenses and identification laws. The attorney argues that little to no immigration reform has been implemented under Obama’s presidency.

Maria (whose name has been changed for her security) came into this country illegally thirteen years when she was nineteen. She came to work as a cleaning lady in order to provide for her family. She and her husband have paid taxes, have taken English classes and have done everything in their power to integrate into American society. Three years ago, she had a son here in the United States. However Maria, like millions of illegal immigrants in the United States, lives in constant fear of being deported. “I want my son to grow and be educated here because he would have more opportunities than in Mexico,” she explains. “If they want to deport me later, they can.”

Obama may have trouble getting support from the immigrant minority in the upcoming election, but as of late, he is making an attempt to bring the issue back to the forefront. In April, President Obama held a White House meeting to discuss immigration reform. In a White House statement, Obama said that he remains committed to “restoring accountability to the broken immigration system.” In the face of congressional opposition, this intended goal may prove easier said than done.


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