America’s greatness does not come from building walls. Our greatness comes from building opportunity. Our greatness comes from building an economy that works for everybody. Our greatness comes from a dream that says in this country, if you work hard, you can build a better life for your family. No matter where you come from. No matter what you look like. No matter what your last name is. That’s what makes America great.
President Barack Obama, October 8, 2015
One year ago today, President Obama announced a series of actions consistent with current laws to reform as much of our broken immigration system as possible. These actions are improving accountability in our immigration system, strengthening our national security and our economy, and building on our past efforts to enforce immigration laws with common sense and compassion. In an address to the nation, the President reminded us that, “our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities.” The President’s immigration executive actions lives up to this tradition. And according to the Council of Economic Advisors, the President’s executive actions, if fully implemented, would boost our economic output by up to $250 billion, and raise average annual wages for U.S.-born workers by 0.4 percent, or $220 in today’s dollars, over the next ten years.
Administrations of both parties have taken executive action on immigration issues for the past half century. Last November, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new guidelines for allowing immigrants who are longstanding members of our communities—including immigrants who were brought here as children and the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents—to request deferred action on a case-by-case basis.
Deferred action is a well-established feature of the immigration system that has been recognized by the Supreme Court and Congress. It is a form of temporary relief that helps DHS focus its limited enforcement resources on the highest priorities for removal, like convicted criminals and recent border crossers. Though the new deferred action policies announced last year have been put on hold in the courts, we will continue to fight to implement them. That is why the Department of Justice has filed a petition seeking review from the Supreme Court of the United States to allow these policies to move forward.
In the meantime, we are moving forward on the other components of our executive actions.
– We have implemented new enforcement priorities and have strengthened our engagement with local law enforcement so that we can better focus our limited resources on those who are threats to our national security, public safety, and border security. Today, over 99% percent of individuals removed by ICE falls into DHS’s new top enforcement priorities, which are focused on those that pose the greatest danger to our safety and security.
– DHS also ended the Secure Communities Program and replaced it with the Priority Enforcement Program, or PEP. PEP is a common sense, more effective program that works with local law enforcement and communities to tailor the program to local jurisdictions needs in order to keep communities safe, while preserving community trust. Today, the vast majority of local law enforcement agencies are now working with DHS to keep criminals off the streets and keep our communities safe.
– We have also taken steps to modernize and streamline our legal immigration system. Thus far, DHS has moved forward on three rules and three policy guidance memoranda – two of these have already been finalized and applications are being received.
– Additionally, the newly established
White House Task Force on New Americans, has released their strategic plan with
48 recommendations. This Task Force is taking tangible steps to help build welcoming communities to better integration immigrants and refugees and is raising awareness about the rights and responsibility of U.S. citizenship and new government tools and resources through the “
Stand Stronger” Citizenship Campaign.
The results of these actions are real and impact members of our communities every day. Today, a high school student is less afraid of coming out of the shadows to apply for and attend college. A father is less afraid that a minor traffic stop could result in his deportation. And, a worker is less afraid she will be targeted by indiscriminate raids. And over 30,000 spouses of high-skilled workers on their path to green cards are able to work—contributing to their families, local communities, and our nation at large.
We have and will continue to reform our immigration system, to make our communities stronger and more secure. But ultimately, it is up to Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to fix the system once and for all. We are not only a nation of laws; we are also a nation of immigrants. We must continue to live up to this tradition and the President has reiterated this throughout the past year.
To learn more about our progress over the last year, take a look here.
Disclaimer: This Op-Ed was selected to be published in our opinion section as a contribution to public debate. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author(s) and/or the organization(s) they represent and do not reflect the views or the editorial line of Univision Noticias.