Obama’s latest executive order: new possibilities for US immigrants?


Copyright 2010, Jason Redmond, Associated Press

President Obama has recently issued an Executive Order that suggests a major shift in his immigration policy.  While more immigrants have been deported during his administration than under any other president’s term since the 1950’s, he is now ordering a halt on deportations of young, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16, are now under the age of 30, and have lived in the country for at least 5 consecutive years, and are in good legal standing.  The order offers temporary residence and work permits to the young people who meet these criteria and helps them to get on the path towards legal citizenship.

Although President Obama’s Executive Order has stirred controversy in Congress, where Republicans and Democrats were seeking a bipartisan agreement on immigration, it will have an immediate positive effect on all the young people who came to the USA with their parents, and who have grown up as Americans despite their official legal status.  The Obama position is not a solution to the country’s longstanding internal battle with immigration, but it will bring comfort to hundreds of thousands of young people and give them hope for the future.  Many of them have been educated in American institutions and what the new Executive Order does is provides them with an opportunity to actively participate in and contribute to, the society they grew up in and identify with.

Migrants face a variety of impediments when they relocate to new countries.  Confronted by cultural differences, language barriers, and often subjected to poor working and living conditions, migrants are easily and quickly marginalized. This is made all the worse when immigrants are undocumented because they cannot be legally employed and their rights are rarely protected.  They typically live in very poor housing where they encounter problems of overcrowding, poor ventilation and heating, all of which frustrate and depress them as well as expose them to airborne diseases.  Without legal identification, many of them accept to be economically abused and exploited, refraining from calling on law enforcement officials for protection or seeking medical attention when they need it.

The situation is not necessarily getting better.  There have been legislative attempts to require hospitals to report illegal immigrants who seek medical attention at hospitals, and a bill introduced by Arizona lawmakers in 2011 calls for them to be profiled and stopped at the will of law enforcement officers.  A study of undocumented migrants in California and Texas reveals that between 50 to 70 percent of undocumented immigrants in these states do not get to see a doctor even once a year, meaning that they receive little if any, preventative healthcare.  Giving legal status to young migrants will allow them to seek the medical attention they require and it will put their health on par with that of their classmates and colleagues.

Granting temporary legal status will mean that the standard of living of young undocumented migrants in the United States can now improve.  The young people involved will, for the first time, be able to apply for driver’s licenses. They will be able to apply for financial aid, and work towards attending colleges and universities. They will be free (within a supply and demand economy) to seek legal employment and move toward health insurance benefits and an overall improved standard of living. While the President’s decision has spurred political controversy, it is a step in the right direction.  With a bit of luck it could help promote a better standard of living for migrants of all ages, but especially young ones.

-Laura Driscoll and Manuel Carballo

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