Vail Daily column: Time for action on immigration reform | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Time for action on immigration reform

Koby L. Polaski
Valley Voices

Last week, President Obama took it upon himself to make this year’s lame duck session decidedly less “lame” by announcing a series of sweeping changes to our nation’s immigration system. This executive action offers temporary status to millions of undocumented immigrants and contains two key — and controversial — components:

• An expansion of the population of people eligible to apply for the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Before Obama’s executive order, the program allowed young immigrants who came to the United States before turning 16 and have been present since Jan. 1, 2010 (previously June 15, 2007) to a apply for a deportation deferral. Previously, applicants must have been under 31 years old. Obama eliminated this age cap and also extended the validity period from two years to three. This means that DACA status is renewable in three-year increments.

• The implementation of a new program called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, which will allow certain parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders to obtain work authorization. The caveat here is that you must qualify for this benefit as of Nov. 20. Anyone who has a child in the United States after that date, or anyone who has a son or daughter that gets a green card or naturalizes after that date, is not eligible for DAPA.

The executive action promises many additional changes, including an increase in border security and changes to the employment-based immigration system designed to grow the economy and create jobs.

Unsurprisingly, Obama’s action outraged Congressional Republicans, who argue he doesn’t have the authority to defer deportations for such a large class of people (of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, it is estimated that the executive action will impact 4 to 5 million without legislation.

Interestingly, nearly all of Obama’s recent predecessors, dating back to John F. Kennedy, have taken executive action on immigration. Let’s take a look: Clinton took executive action to protect Haitian refugees from deportation, and President Bush before him took similar action to protect Salvadoran refugees. In 1987, impacting more than 100,000 families, President Reagan deferred deportations for the minor children of parents legalized by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. In 1990, President Bush extended Reagan’s “family fairness” policy to all spouses and unmarried children of people legalized by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. This executive action affected 1.5 million people. Kennedy reached 1 million people in 1961 when he directed the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to establish a formal program to assist Cuban refugees.

So there you have it. History repeating itself.

Before forming an opinion on the politics and legality of Obama’s move, it is important to recognize what these recent changes are and what they are not. Most importantly, this is not an amnesty and none of Obama’s changes confers permanent status; only Congress has the power to do that. Additionally, Obama’s successor can likewise employ the power of the executive branch to undo Obama’s changes. Finally, those who benefit under DAPA and DACA will not have legal status, nor will they even be on a path to legal status; they will have a temporary protection from deportation and the opportunity to obtain work authorization.

I agree with both sides here. With the Republicans in that of course there is a better way to do immigration reform. Executive action does not actually “reform” anything, because the messy and broken Immigration and Nationality Act remains messy and broken. And I agree with Obama when he urged Congress to pass a bill. If there is a better way to do immigration reform, then do it! Put those words to action, and, rather than simply undoing what Obama has done. Pass legislation that will result in real reform.

Koby L. Polaski is a senior attorney at Joseph Law Firm in Edwards.