President Obama took a bold and important step this week to address one of the most pressing problems facing our country today. The problem? More than 11 million undocumented immigrants are living in the shadows across America—unable to work legally, at high risk of job discrimination and harassment, afraid of law enforcement and unlikely to report crimes.
The majority of these immigrants have been here for over a decade. They have children and deep roots in their communities. Deporting them is both impractical and inhumane—impractical because of the sheer numbers involved and inhumane because deportation rips families apart.
The reasonable solution that the President has embraced is to create opportunities for more people to come out into the open and join the mainstream of American society as authorized workers, taxpayers and members of their communities.
Lawmakers in Washington have had multiple opportunities to address this problem. The U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with bipartisan support in 2013. But the House of Representatives repeatedly failed to take up the issue, which essentially left the President with two choices: watch the problem get worse, or use his executive authority to try and make things better.
The President’s action affects 5 million immigrants; in California alone, the total is more than 1.5 million people. All of these people will now have an opportunity to acquire temporary work permits and live their lives without the constant fear of being deported. The President’s action does not put these people on a path to citizenship; Congress has to pass a law to do that. But it does give them and their families the ability to play a more open and active part in their communities and the U.S. workforce—and it ensures that more families can stop living in fear and remain together until there is a more permanent fix to the problem.
Making It Work
Now the priority is to make the most of this huge opportunity to start bringing more common sense and compassion to U.S. immigration policy. Everyone who qualifies under the President’s plan will now have to come forward, pay fees and produce documentation to affirm that they are eligible. Mobilizing people to apply and providing them with resources and information to help them navigate what could be a complicated process is essential to the success of the program.
President Obama has taken a critical step, and the Haas, Jr. Fund thanks our partners in the movement who tirelessly have made the case for him to act. But we still have a long way to go.Ira Hirschfield
At the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, we are honored to be working with many groups that have come together under the banner Ready California to ensure that our home state is investing in what’s needed to ensure the success of the President’s plan, including outreach to immigrant communities, application support, legal services and more. This will be a huge undertaking, and we hope other funders and partners will take advantage of this opportunity to improve the lives of millions of aspiring Americans and their families.
The President has taken a critical step, and the Haas, Jr. Fund thanks our partners in the movement who tirelessly have made the case for him to act. But we still have a long way to go. Even with the President’s actions, 6 million people will still be living in the shadows because they do not qualify. We need a long-term solution for putting undocumented people on a path to citizenship in this country and modernizing an immigration system that everyone, regardless of political leanings, agrees is broken. Having a permanent underclass of people who can never fully integrate themselves into our society as citizens, coworkers and neighbors goes against core American values.
We commend the President for doing the right thing. Now it’s time to come together to make the plan work. And let’s remember that this is only a temporary fix. It’s just one step in the right direction. Immigration makes us stronger as a nation. We need an immigration policy that targets the very real problems with the current system and that advances real, workable, humane solutions.