Obama Offers Relief to Unauthorized Immigrants

Barrington M. Salmon | 6/20/2012, 12:51 p.m.

"This obviously in the lives of these people is a tremendously important action. They don't have to look over their shoulders, they can get work permits and be able to work legally."

Another MPI official elaborated.

"This action by the administration will have a measurable effect on the lives of many immigrants at a time when Washington is deadlocked on making necessary reform to the immigration system," said Muzaffar Chishti, director of MPI's office at New York University Law School. "However, a program of this scale will present significant implementation challenges and will need to be addressed with increased capacity, training and oversight."

Unauthorized immigrants who are 15 and older will have to present themselves to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and substantiate the deportation-relief criteria the authorities seek. Homeland Security will have to determine the eligibility of about 890,000 people while the agency processes the more than 5 million applications for immigration benefits it handles annually. In addition, DHS will have to lay the groundwork for and execute a comprehensive, multilingual media and public outreach campaign to educate immigrant communities on the details of the deferred action and, in a later phase, how to apply for employment authorization, MPI officials said.

Of course, there is little that occurs in Washington that isn't deemed political, overt or otherwise. It didn't take long for Republican challenger Mitt Romney to subtly criticize Obama's move, although he wouldn't say if he would reverse the decision. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, however, were more pointed in their criticism, with Brewer calling Obama's decision "outrageous."

Conservative Congressional Republicans and supporters of rigid immigration enforcement accused Obama of overstepping his authority and they condemned the plan as "backdoor amnesty." Republican leaders are also left to worry about being boxed into a corner and they are concerned that Romney's position on immigration leaves them vulnerable with Hispanic voters. Romney has advocated some draconian positions with regards to immigration. He called for the erection of more fences on the border, promised to veto the "Dream Act" and has as an immigration advisor one of the people responsible for crafting some of the toughest crackdowns against immigrants.

Avis Jones-DeWeever called Obama's action a commonsense move.

"I definitely think that this was a direction that needed to be taken," she said. "It was an issue of who was savvy enough to push the button. It could have been Rubio. He [Obama] tried to pass the 'Dream Act' but faced tremendous resistance from Republicans. This, in particular, is really at the root of justice ... it's commonsense and the country will ultimately benefit. This is an opportunity to legitimately give back."

"Although it's stereotypic that this will only benefit Latinos, it will benefit all immigrants who've made their way to these shores. The immigrant community is much broader and more diverse. It's not limited to one particular or specific community."

Several analysts and political pundits credit Obama with seizing the immigration initiative and outsmarting and outmaneuvering the GOP.