On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced a policy at the White House that would save around 800,000 illegal immigrants in America from deportation. These people are eligible for work permits and a two-year deferred action as long as they:
were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are not above 30;
have been in the country for at least five continuous years;
have no criminal record;
have graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED or have served in the military.
Obama’s announcement has left members of the Latino community celebrating around the country and the GOP furiously reacting to his decision. Putting the public response aside, the impact of the policy change may not be quite positive as some may think. Even though the policy change represents a humanitarian effort intending to push Congress to pass the DREAM Act, it is problematic in its reasoning, temporary in its effect and narrow-ranged in its targeted population.
At first glance, relieving 800,000 young and “good” illegal immigrants from their lifelong fear of deportation seems to be “the right thing to do” — as declared by President Obama during the Rose Garden address. These young people were brought to the United States illegally by their parents with “no idea that they (were) undocumented.” Many have assimilated into American culture and society through education. They have adopted all the U.S. identities culturally and nationally except one — the legal identity. Therefore, Obama’s policy is a humanitarian effort that alleviates thousands of young illegal immigrants from bearing the burden of their parents’ wrongdoing and provides them with a bright future.
Yet, the humanitarian idea behind Obama’s policy is deeply problematic. It benefits the youngsters who were brought to the United States illegally before they turned 16. But how about their parents who brought them here? If a humanitarian policy means removing the unfair burden from the young illegal immigrants, how is it humane when such policy also means breaking their families apart?
Supporters of the new deportation policy may argue that such a dilemma can be resolved by pushing forward the DREAM Act. Under the bill, young illegal immigrants who qualify for similar requirements listed under Obama’s deportation policy stand a chance to attain permanent residency. Once they become permanent residents, these young people can sponsor their parents to apply for permanent residencies on the basis of family reunification.
However, opponents of the DREAM Act rebut that the influx of those immigrants could potentially hurt the already suffering U.S. job market. This is true. Traditionally, the inflow of unauthorized immigrants has arguably supported the U.S. economy, as most of them take up the low-end jobs not favored by the native-born Americans. Yet what the DREAM Act will unleash is a group of educated and skilled immigrants, once bounded by illegality, who will pose strong competition to the native U.S. workers.
A similar argument is made by the Republicans regarding Obama’s deportation policy. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, commented: “How can the administration justify allowing illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. when millions of Americans are unemployed?” Yet, such a remark is an overstatement. These newly authorized young workers are facing the same job market as anyone else. They too have to face the fierce competition of the job market and the risk of unemployment. On a local scale, they will consider themselves members of the formal workforce and are unlikely to settle for a lower wage, as their predecessors traditionally have. This will allow local employers to consider them and native workers equally, without harming the locals’ job prospects. Thus, the impact of Obama’s deportation policy on the U.S. job market is insignificant.
Unfortunately, the new policy “is not a permanent fix,” President Obama recognized in his announcement. “This is not amnesty … this is not a path to citizenship.” These young people will only be able to apply for a citizenship or permanent residency after Congress passes the long-stalled DREAM Act. With the fierce opposition from the Republicans, the DREAM Act will unlikely be passed in the near future. That means if one day these newly authorized minors lose their jobs after their work permits expire, they will again face the risk of deportation.
The effect of the new deportation policy is also narrow-ranged. It excludes a potentially large number of young illegal immigrants who satisfy most but not all of the policy requirements. These youngsters generally grow up under impoverished conditions and receive poor attention from parents and teachers. They are prone to academic inadequacy and minor misconduct, which are at least partially the result of their parents’ and teachers’ irresponsible actions. Compared to qualified individuals, these young illegal immigrants bear a heavier burden of their parents’ wrongdoing. If it is morally imperative to relieve the 800,000 qualified illegal immigrants from the burden of their parents’ misbehavior, then why not the “almost-qualified” individuals too?
President Obama’s bombshell announcement of the new deportation policy before the upcoming presidential election may simply be “a political act.” Yet, parties of concern should recognize the overall impact of the policy. The deportation policy may endow thousands of young, inspired and talented people the freedom to pursue a brighter future, but it will leave many more brokenhearted, as it relieves neither the parents of these youngsters nor the many “almost-qualified” individuals from the risk of deportation.
Shi Yi is a UC Berkeley junior.
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