Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration

There is a lot of confusion about what President Obama’s 2014 Executive Action on Immigration entails, and the situation is muddied by the fact that officials from at least twenty-four states have filed legal challenges against the president’s order.

Stephanie Teatro, interim co-director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), explained, “The president’s order involves changes in about ten different areas, over three categories. The first of those categories deals with border security, immigration enforcement, and prioritizing deportation. The fact is, the government has to prioritize. This isn’t amnesty, it’s just an acknowledgement that we should focus on threats to national security or safety.”

This is hardly a stunning change in policy, and even the minimal gain is insecure. “If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you shouldn’t be deported,” Teatro reflects. But she’s cautious. “We’ve heard this before. While we’re encouraged, we’ve heard this message in the past and then seen families separated. We’ll know it’s effective when we see it.”

Second, Obama’s order also includes provisions dealing with highly skilled workers. “There are provisions included,” Teatro explained, “that make it easier for high skilled workers to stay in the country and even to petition for family and children to come.”

Third is the largest and most controversial aspect, though it’s closely related to the first. “Deferred action,” Teatro explained, “shields some people [from] deportation and allows them to apply for work permit during the three years.” This isn’t amnesty by a long shot, as the name indicates. Deferred action leaves looming the possibility of future deportation. “Most every president has declared something like this—Obama did it in 2012 for some children. This action affects 4.4 million parents who are undocumented but have a child who is a citizen or green card holder.” While the 2012 program is already accepting renewal applications for deferred status, the full application process for the 2014 program is still not available. Nevertheless, given its mission, TIRRC is busy preparing for the day the process opens.

TIRRC is “a coalition of individuals and organizations that develops leadership in the community and focus on advocacy,” Teatro said. “We have defeated over 125 anti-immigrant bills since our founding, and we’re working proactively to secure access for undocumented students to higher education in Tennessee. Advocating for federal immigration reform is our highest priority, of course, since that’s where policy is set. We’ve helped put pressure on the president and congress to impress on them that they have a responsibility to act.”

Now, TIRRC will be “taking a lead role across the state to make this new executive action a reality for Tennessee residents.” To that end, in the one month since Obama announced his order, TIRRC had already held over twenty-five information sessions to inform people of what the changes mean, and they are actively working with local schools to begin preparing paperwork. When the applications are released, they’ll hold legal services workshops to help people prepare their applications.

While Teatro and others at TIRRC are rightfully proud of their accomplishments, they also recognize how limited they are. The program is subject to renewal under the next administration. Further, though it potentially helps nearly five million people, “So many members carrying out the fight aren’t benefiting,” Teatro said. “Not everyone is a parent of a legal child. LGBT immigrants have been leaders in the immigrants’ rights movement, and many of our most active members are openly undocumented and openly gay. But so much of our immigration system is family based that LGBT individuals are given less remedy. We have to continue advocating for all the people who are left out.”

For more information about TIRRC, or their work, visit www.tnimmigrant.org. If you are interested in volunteering to help immigrants apply for Deferred Action, contact TIRCC directly.



All photos courtesy of TIRRC.

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