Sometime in the next month President Obama is expected to announce changes to immigration enforcement policies, potentially relieving the fear of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants. Specifics aren’t clear, but press reports and immigrant rights advocates close to the discussions indicate that reforms on the table include widening the group of people temporarily allowed to remain and work in the United States; carve-outs for tech and agricultural interests; and changes to the way immigration authorities enforce the law in the field.
Just the prospect of a unilateral move has triggered accusations of tyranny from the right, though even conservatives are beginning to acknowledge that legal constraints on the president are not clear cut. Already, the executive actions are a major political event. But undocumented immigrants and their advocates are increasingly concerned that the practical impact of Obama’s orders will be far more limited than the hype suggests—and they’re trying to raise the bar for what bold action really means.
Arturo Carmona, executive director of the social justice group Presente.org, said his organization was prepared to reject the option reported to be at the top of the list of reforms the White House is considering because it is not inclusive enough. That proposal is an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which allows some immigrants brought to the United States as children to stay and work, to include their parents and those of US citizens. Such an extension would likely cover four to five million people at most—a number that Carmona called “a non-starter.”
“This proposal promises more deportations, more families being separated,” he told me. “This is not what we’ve been working so hard for.”
Marisa Franco, an organizer with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said that expanding DACA for such a select group of people was “bottom-shelf stuff,” adding, “The president can and should do more.”
On Wednesday, eleven undocumented immigrants launched a campaign to encourage Obama to consider extending relief broadly, “to all individuals who are integral members of our evolving American community,” as they wrote in a letter to the director of Homeland Security. The eleven, who asked that their own deportations be deferred, represent a range of circumstances. “Our families need urgent relief now, and here’s the key question—just how inclusive and humane will President Obama’s executive action be?” the activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is one of the eleven, said at the National Press Club in Washington. “Who will be left out, and why?”
Kamal Essaheb of the National Immigration Law Center, one of the groups coordinating the “1 in 11 million” campaign, said that deferred action and work permits should be available to anyone who can demonstrate strong ties to the US. “Their US citizen family members, their length of time in the US, whether they’ve contributed to the US economy somehow, whether they work in a critical industry, whether they’ve created jobs—all of those things should be weighed in before we decide to expel somebody from the community,” he said. “We don’t want to get it half right. If we’re going to try to insert justice back into the immigration system, lets go all the way and develop policies that are consistent with our values.”