by Henry Melo
Obama’s Executive actions on immigration were halted by Texas judge Andrew Hanen, who argued that the president overreached his presidential powers when he made broad changes to the Immigration System without congressional approval.
The case has now become a legal and political battle, since White House lawyers promised to appeal the judge’s decision, while Republicans threaten to shut down the Department of Homeland Security to prevent the Executive Actions from going into effect.
But beyond this blind political fight between Democrats and Republicans, what is going to happen to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S if the Executive Actions are implemented? Will they finally get some peace of mind and a path to citizenship? Will they at least be able to become legal permanent residents?
Unfortunately, neither Obama’s executive actions, nor any Congressional bills, have the intention to solve this problem.
Understanding the Executive Actions
1. No Green Cards, no Citizenship, just Temporary Deportation Relief –
According to the White House: “The President is also acting to hold accountable those undocumented immigrants who have lived in the US for more than five years and are parents of U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents. By registering and passing criminal and national security background checks, millions of undocumented immigrants will start paying their fair share of taxes and temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation for three years at a time. DHS is also expanding the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy so that individuals who were brought to this country as children (“DREAMers”) can apply if they entered before January 1, 2010, regardless of how old they are today. Going forward, DACA relief will also be granted for three years”.
What this means is that Obama’s Executive actions do not offer any opportunity for immigrants to become legal residents or American citizens. What they do is expand DACA (the existing program that relieves young students from deportation), making it renewable every 3 years instead of the current 2, and eliminating the age cap. This would potentially include 270,000 new young students in the program. Besides that, the Executive Actions also create a new program for parents of citizens or legal residents (DAPA), which allows them to work for 3 years if they come forward, go through criminal background checks, and pay taxes.
While many immigrants are likely to come forward to fight for their chance to have a work permit and be temporarily relieved from deportation, the problems with this approach are many. First, since it’s a temporary measure, it can be revoked at any time, by any president. So if the presidency changes, the programs might change as well. In that case, millions of immigrants could be deported, since Homeland Security would already have all their information on database!
Second, it sets the bar very low for what immigrants can expect from the government for decades to come: no long term residency rights, only partial permits instead, which will contribute to the permanent fear and stress that immigrant families are forced to live under.
Third, it is a discriminatory law, aimed at dividing and conquering immigrants, since it favors a certain group of people (young students and parents of legal residents) and excludes others (parents of “dreamers”, parents of undocumented immigrants, single immigrants and LGBT communities).
2. Cracking Down on Immigrants at the Border
“The President’s actions increase the chances that anyone attempting to cross the border illegally will be caught and sent back. Continuing the surge of resources that effectively reduced the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally this summer, the President’s actions will also centralize border security command-and-control to continue to crack down on illegal immigration”.
This is the other side of Obama’s executive actions: it favors a certain group of immigrants in order to make it easier to crack down on other groups, in this case, anyone who crossed the border recently or attempts to do so in the future.
Under the Obama administration, the resources that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) dedicates to security at the Southwest border are at an all-time high. Today, there are 3,000 additional Border Patrol agents along the border. Additionally, border fencing, drones, and ground surveillance systems have more than doubled since 2008, cutting border crossings by more than half.
But Obama wants to increase these efforts even more. Instead of addressing the reasons why Mexicans and Central Americans flee to the U.S (which has largely to do with U.S imperialism), Obama wants to prevent border crossings through sheer force. The consequences will be disastrous. More and more immigrants will be arrested and deported or killed at the hands of the Obama administration.
3. Increasing Deportations and Police Repression
“The President’s actions focus on the deportation of people who threaten national security and public safety. He has directed immigration enforcement to place anyone suspected of terrorism, violent criminals, gang members, and recent border crossers at the top of the deportation priority list”.
This measure makes it clear that the Obama administration wants to place anybody who attempts to cross the southern border as a criminal (i.e. comparing them to terrorists and gang members) and therefore, a top priority to be deported. This is absurd! Most people who attempt to cross the border are fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries; they are not criminals, but victims of crimes. Many of them are women and minors, like the thousands of Central American children that crossed the border last summer fighting for their lives. The real crime is to arrest and deport these people, knowing that they may not survive.
Regarding the attitude of the police towards Latin@s, Obama is trying to sell his initiative as a progressive one, since it ends the hated Secure Communities Program, which enforced collaboration between police and immigration agencies in order to detain and deport undocumented immigrants, and he replaced it with a new program called PEP, which supposedly focuses only on criminals.
The problem is that police will continue to gather immigrants’ data and fingerprints, and this information can be used against undocumented immigrants at any time, since any temporary measure that is not a law can be easily changed in the future. Another issue is that immigrants that committed minor offenses can also become targets under the new program, since they might be considered threats to “public safety.”
Obama also intends to speed up court processes against immigrants by having the Department of Justice work more closely with Homeland Security to identify and deport recent “illegal border crossers”, “threats to public safety” and “criminals.” This will significantly increase detentions and deportations, since immigrants are constantly unfairly accused of crimes they haven’t committed due to the racist practices of the police and justice system.
4. Taxing Immigrants and Boosting Corporations’ Profits
One of the main reasons the Obama administration is pushing for executive actions on Immigration is that they realized immigrants can help grow the capitalist economy- by paying more taxes for federal and state governments: “(…) the President’s executive actions will expand the country’s tax base by millions of people and billions of dollars. Individuals potentially eligible for deferred action under the President’s executive actions are in the country today — and have been for many years. They provide for their families, just like all American citizens. Many are already in the workforce and contributing federal, state, and local taxes. But roughly two-thirds of them don’t pay taxes today. The President is changing that, ensuring that these individuals have the opportunity to apply for a work authorization and pay taxes”.
The creation of a layer of immigrants who have work permits and pay taxes will increase competition for jobs within the immigrant workforce and also between immigrant and native (i.e. U.S. citizens) workers as well, which will press all wages down.
Companies who mostly employ the labor of undocumented immigrants, in fields such as agriculture, janitorial, construction and food-service, will still have access to cheap labor, since about 7 million immigrants will remain completely “illegal.” These immigrants will get the lowest paid jobs, and will face even more pressure than before to accept precarious work conditions for fear of losing their jobs and being deported. That way, these companies can become more competitive, spending less on payroll and more in “investments”.
Immigrants who get their work permits are likely to find better jobs than the undocumented ones, but competition with native workers will increase, since companies that mostly employ native workers will start looking for qualified immigrants that are willing to accept a lower wage to do the same job.
In the end, corporations are the ones that are going to win, since they will be able to boost their profits by putting one sector of workers against the other. Workers in general will lose, since average wages will tend to decrease.
The Immigration Reform that never happened
As we can see, Obama’s Executive Actions will not solve the problems that affect the lives of the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. They will still have to suffer with uncertainty, fear of deportation, job insecurity, low wages, and lack of access to public services.
Most undocumented immigrants believed Obama back in 2008 when he said that the U.S immigration system was broken. He then promised to pass a comprehensive immigration reform plan. Nearly 7 years have passed and no comprehensive reform has yet to happen. At this point, the fact should be clear: such a reform won’t happen, especially since there is no agreement between the Democrats and Republicans on an immigration reform bill.
Immigration has been a long lasting problem for the U.S ruling class. Democrats and Republicans reflect different layers and sectors of the ruling class, who will be impacted differently by changes in the immigration system, so they have different tactics on how to deal with this problem. That’s why they all agree on the need to crackdown on illegal immigration, but not on giving partial benefits to some immigrant groups.
What Democrats and Republicans agree on is that they do not want to concede green cards to all the undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S, and that they do not want more illegal immigrants crossing the border. That’s why they are united on all repressive measures against immigrants, such as deportations, reinforcing the southern border and implementing electronic checks at the job.
What they disagree is only on the tactics of what to do with the immigrants that are here now. Republicans say: let’s make their life difficult, leave them undocumented, and whenever possible, deport them. Democrats say: okay, let’s deport some of them, but since part of them have been here for more than 5 years, let’s at least make them go through background checks, pay taxes and fines, and this will help the economy grow.
The truth is none of these “gentlemen” are genuinely worried about the lives and well-being of immigrants. Their primary concern is to worry about how to better exploit their labor force in order to increase the profits of U.S. companies, and to gain as much of the “Latin@ Vote” as possible in the process.
For an Immigrants’ Movement Independent of Obama and the DP!
Obama’s promise of a comprehensive immigration reform got stuck in the false democracy that rules the United States. The Senate, the House of Representatives, the Justice System & the presidency: none of these institutions was able to make any real progress to deliver a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants.
This is the proof that any significant and lasting gain for immigrant workers will not come from the hands of Democrats, Republicans, or the institutions that they control. It has to come from our own struggle.
In order to win the fight for our rights, we need build a movement that is independent of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party, and that has no illusions in the parliamentary maneuvers that both Democrats and Republicans often make.
A platform to build such a movement should include the following demands:
Stop deportations and repression against immigrants!
Obama and DHS must stop all enforcement initiatives at the southern border, such as the construction of fences, use of drones and increasing border patrol. Halt deportation procedures against workers, children and refugees fleeing violence. Release immigrants from prisons and detention centers. Stop police brutality and collaboration between police and ICE; no E-Verify at the job.
Legalization for all now!
All immigrants that are willing to live and work in the U.S should be granted permanent residency (Green Card) and, for those who wish, the right to become an American citizen. Full rights for all immigrants: authorization to work, to unionize, access to health care, housing, social services, all levels of education, and family recognition.
Stop U.S imperialist policies abroad!
Denounce U.S Imperialism as the main cause of immigration; stop wars, military interventions, and economic agreements such as NAFTA, CAFTA and Trans-Pacific Partnership. Stop corporate environmental destruction abroad. End the “drug war” in Mexico. Forgive all the debts third-world countries have with the U.S. Demilitarize & open the US / Mexico border.
Immigrant and native/documented workers unite!
Unite workers to fight for their rights across all “legal-statuses.” Living wages, better work conditions and benefits for all workers. For the Right to unionize, form political parties and vote. Workers unity without borders. For classist, fighting, democratic, and independent international unions!
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