Over the past week I spent some time considering the pros and cons of President Obama taking executive action on immigration. Is this really the right approach to handling our mounting immigration problem? Should we wait on Congress to finally get a bill passed? If we wait on Congress will our current batch of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients be at retirement age when that happens? I finally came to the conclusion that executive action is the appropriate step and it should not wait until after the November elections. A couple of interactions finally convinced me that unilateral action is the right move from the President:
Last Monday morning I received a call from a man who was frantically trying to stop the removal of his wife, Maria, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is not an isolated occurrence, by the way. The call came in at around 11:00 a.m. and ICE already was in the process of executing the removal. They said she would be on her way to Mexico at 2 p.m. The removal was being expedited because the women had been previously deported by the border patrol without a judicial hearing over a decade ago. Therefore, she was subject to reinstatement of removal.
I rushed down to the ICE Enforcement and Removal Office in south Tucson. There I met her husband where he provided me with a small file folder filled with random documents. He explained to me that she suffered from seizures since the age of 3 years old and needs to consistently take an anti-seizure drug and receive medical care. He also explained that he himself suffers from numerous ailments including diabetes, hypertension and a chronic shoulder problem. Maria cares for him and he could not envision her being sent to Mexico with a high probability of not getting back to the United States. Maria has a U.S. citizen child, a child with DACA and she also is the primary caregiver to her 72-year-old mother.
ICE accepted the form but only gave Maria a temporary Order of Supervision requiring her to report again in 30 days while they review the request. Will they grant the stay of removal? It is difficult to say, but ICE denies a significant number of these requests. Maria and her husband asked, “What else we can do?” What could I say? I responded with, “Pray that the President will announce something soon.” It is the same line I have told hundreds of people looking for options to fix their immigration dilemma: “Hopefully reforms will come soon.”
The next day I consulted with a surgeon from India. After several years of being on both J-1 and H-1B visas, he was hoping to become a permanent resident of the United States. I explained to him that there is currently a backlog for most highly skilled immigrants from India that could cause the process to take between 5-15 years. He was perplexed by the wait time and told me that he was already considering a move to either Canada or some other developed country that may appreciate his skills more.
For over a decade, I have been saying the system is broken. The U.S. government has failed on immigration, and in the meantime millions have been deported and families have been torn apart. Businesses have to wait each year for a random lottery to determine whether they will even be eligible to pay, on average, over $2,000 in filing fees just for the government to determine if they can hire a foreign worker with specialized skills. Businesses have been forced to outsource their labor or set up operations outside the United States due to this mounting problem as well as other immigration obstacles. Aspiring immigrants are stuck waiting for several years and oftentimes decades to become permanent residents.
These are only a couple of examples of the damage our messed up immigration system has had on our economy and our community. It is time for drastic changes to take place. Maria, her husband and family need immediate relief. The President taking action is long overdue. If Congress won’t do their job, I believe the President should do it for them. Go big Mr. President!
Written by Mo Goldman, Chair, AILA Media Advocacy Committee