Obama takes on the immigration system alone

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“You can come out of the shadows,” Obama told millions of undocumented immigrants in a prime-time speech to the country last Thursday.

Obama is using executive action to shield almost half of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. These include the undocumented parents of children who are citizens or legal residents as well as children brought to the U.S. illegally before 2010. His action also prioritizes deportation of criminals over the innocent and streamlines procedures in the visa system and immigration courts.

The move comes after six years of Congressional gridlock over the issue and Obama’s frustration over Congress’ failure to pass a comprehensive reform bill concerning immigration policy. Obama believes that he had no choice but to act, according to BBC.

“I wasn’t going to sit idly by and not do at least what I was authorized to do,” Obama said.

Republicans have condemned Obama’s use of broad executive authority and accused him of sabotaging comprehensive and bipartisan reform. Obama had echoed these concerns earlier; in September 2013 he argued against broadening a deportation suspension in favor of Congressional action, according to the Chicago Tribune. However, Obama’s new executive action reflects a turn from conciliation to confrontation with Congress and a desire to use far-reaching executive power to complete his goals in his last years of presidency.

Social studies teacher Jason Spoor-Harvey sees the president’s plan as a short-term mend to the immigration system and considers the legislative process a better path to solutions.

from The White House

“Obama’s executive action isn’t a permanent fix,” Spoor-Harvey said. “Immigrants are still going to come here both legally and through illegal means, and so there will still be an issue with undocumented immigrants. Congress will need to act in order to reform immigration policy in an overall, big-picture way.”

Freshman Gretchen Coleman approves of Obama’s goals but believes the move does not get to the root of the problem.

“It’s good that the plan will help current undocumented immigrants, but I don’t think it’s going to solve the whole problem,” Coleman said. “The countries from where these immigrants are coming from should be given help in improving their economies so that families don’t feel the need to leave in the first place.”

The move also means that 4 million undocumented immigrants will be eligible for work permits and Social Security cards, provided that they pay taxes and pass background checks.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner told BBC that he views Obama’s plan as rewarding undocumented immigrants and prompting further illegal immigration.

“The action by the president will only encourage more people to come here illegally,” Boehner said. “It also punishes those who have obeyed the law and waited their turn.”

Obama insists that his executive action does not amount to amnesty and argued in his speech that the plan will allow immigration courts to speed up the process of deporting illegal immigrants who have arrived more recently and those who are threats to national security or felons.

“I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time,” he said. “That’s the real amnesty – leaving this broken system the way it is. ”

Hoping to rally support for his action, Obama has begun a national tour to promote his message. He will visit Chicago Tuesday, speaking with immigration activists at the Copernicus Center. Mayor Rahm Emanuel will join him.

Junior Dylan Assmann views Obama’s action as a step forward, since everyone should have the right to live where they wish.

“I support Obama’s action, since it’ll make the immigration process more efficient,” Assmann said. “I’ve talked to my friends who’ve came to this country as immigrants, and they said it takes really long to get everything processed. It’s a natural right to go anywhere you want, as long as you’re not a criminal or something.”