President Barack Obama has announced that his administration will be changing course when it comes to immigration. People who immigrated to the US illegally–whether they were brought as children by their parents or came of their own volition–will no longer be forcibly deported if they meet certain requirements, such as being able to prove that they have lived in the US for at least 5 years. Those immigrants who meet the requirements will then able to apply for a work permit to remain in the country; in short, they will be given the opportunity to move out of the shadows on the fringes of society, if they haven’t already done so.
Thus far, the President has been tough on the issue of illegal immigration, far tougher than any of his critics seem to want to give him credit for. In 2011 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or, ICE) deported almost 400 thousand illegal immigrants, a record; the number of ICE agents patrolling the Southwest border doubled between 2004 and 2011.
Previous attempts by the Obama administration and the Democrats to reach a long-term solution to the issue of what to do with the illegal immigrants in this country have failed. The DREAM Act, originally introduced to Congress in 2001 but reintroduced in 2009, 2010, and finally, 2011, would have allowed immigrants up to the age of 35 who meet certain requirements to attain a conditional permanent residency within the U.S. Every time the bill was introduced it failed to garner enough support for passage.
The U.S. has a long history of inviting Mexican workers across the border to work. Initiated in 1942 and formally discontinued in 1964, the United States signed a series of laws and diplomat agreements–formally named the Bracero program–designed to allow Mexican workers into the US on a temporary basis to provide low wage labor when there were not enough Americans to perform the jobs. Today American farmers say that their fruits and vegetables would not be picked at a labor cost low enough to generate a profit without the work garnered from Mexican laborers.
In lieu of treating all illegal immigrants the same the Obama administration now wants to focus their efforts on increasing border security to stem the flow of future migrants across the U.S.-Mexico and deporting immigrants who commit crimes. Republicans are crying “amnesty,” the buzzword they use to stir up indignation from strongly anti-immigrant quarters; some citizens have even intimated that Obama is thumbing his nose up at the legislature–although this change in direction by the administration was done by executive order and is within the power of the presidency; and finally, Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has failed to indicate whether or not he would reverse this move, even while he makes feeble attempts to criticize the shift.
Obviously Obama’s shift in immigration policy is not a long-term solution: granting a temporary work permit to immigrants who can prove that they have been in America for at least 5 years is not the same as granting citizenship. Bringing law-abiding–except for that pesky ‘little’ issue of entering the country illegally–people who work out of shadows isn’t just a shift, it’s a step in the right direction, a step towards a long-term solution.