On Thursday, November 20, 2014, President Obama announced his executive order on immigration. The President’s executive order will allow undocumented immigrants, who have lived in the United States for at least five years and have children who are US citizens or Legal Permanent Residents, to temporarily work and live in the United States without fear of deportation as long as they pass a criminal background check, pay all of their taxes, and pay a fee. The executive order also expands the pool of people eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to include those who arrived before Jan. 1, 2010 without any age limitation.
We support the fact that this order will allow a portion of the undocumented population a period of relief from the fear of deportation that they live with every day. However, we are disappointed with the limits to this action. Most of our members will not qualify for this relief even though they have been working and paying taxes in the United States for many years. For those that will qualify, the order is still discriminatory. Undocumented immigrants who qualify for the temporary deportation relief will be given a social security number to pay their taxes with but will continue to be excluded from claiming retirement benefits and from the Affordable Care Act.
The claim is that this order will temporarily protect around 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, including the expanded eligible population for the DACA program. However, that does not mean that all 5+ million will apply due to the fact that this order has a very unclear future. Justifiably, many undocumented immigrants fear that putting their name on a list for temporary relief will lead to negative consequences when the President leaves office and should his order be overturned by the next President.
We at CATA understand that the presence of undocumented workers in the U.S. not only contributes to the betterment of civil society but is a crucial element for the viability of our broken food system. For example, New Jersey would lose $24.2 billion in economic activity and about 103,898 jobs if all unauthorized immigrants were removed. Our society and, in particular, the corporate agricultural and food industries, takes advantage of the vulnerability of the undocumented population in order to maintain low salaries and increase profits. Although undocumented immigrants contribute financially through purchasing and living costs, they are systemically kept in poverty. This order does very little to address any of those issues.
While this executive order is a step in the right direction, it is far from addressing the real problems; it is merely a small band-aid on the gaping wound that is our broken immigration system. The President is right to address this issue, but much more needs to be done. Congress needs to stop focusing on petty politics and come up with a genuine, comprehensive solution. We will continue to push for a path to citizenship as a solution to the presence of more than 11 million undocumented people. The principle which immigration policy should be based on is the fulfillment of the human rights and dignity of every person. We affirm that the struggle goes beyond the recognition of the basic human rights of migrants and workers. The struggle is to challenge society to not be guided by fear and intolerance, but by the recognition of the value and inherent dignity of human life.