Democrats have to face the facts: They lost the midterm elections, and now President Barack Obama faces an uphill battle against a united Republican Congress for his final two years in office.
Moving forward, it remains to be seen if Obama can pull through and fulfill his 2008 campaign promise to institute immigration reform. If the past six years are any indication, Obama could be making his most controversial decision yet. He lost the midterms, he lost the Senate and now his only hope is to regain the support of Hispanics and immigrants nationwide by taking executive action on immigration.
But is executive action the best answer to our nation’s burgeoning immigration problem? Hardly. The answer is still comprehensive reform. The problem is the Republican Party and its refusal to compromise.
Anyone who has examined last year’s version of comprehensive immigration reform, a bill known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of eight senators, can tell you that this bill is a far cry from a victory for Democrats.
Almost all the benefits allotted to undocumented immigrants center on the creation of a new kind of legal status, called “Registered Provisional Immigrant” (RPI). This designation would create a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already present in the country. If granted RPI status, immigrants would be able to work, receive in-state tuition at colleges and eventually apply for citizenship.
However, the caveat lies in the fact that these benefits are entirely contingent on other provisions of the bill, including but not limited to the completion of nearly 700 miles of new fencing along the Mexico-United States border, as well as the implementation of a multi-billion dollar revamping of our border security and removal processes. Since Republicans fail to see this as a good compromise and have publicly declared their refusal to even address immigration, there truly is no other option besides executive action.
Our nation’s immigration system is convoluted and nearly impossible to navigate. Unless you have an incredibly high-paying job offer or have a direct family member here, it is nearly impossible for you to immigrate. Even if you do have a family member or job offer here, you could face a wait time anywhere from one to 20 years depending on the kind of visa you are eligible for. There are almost no accessible or permanent options for those who live in the United States undocumented, regardless of how and when they arrived here.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) grants temporary status to those who arrived in the United States as children and meet specific qualifications. Although this is a positive step, DACA is a temporary measure, and legislators have yet to address if applicants will be allowed to apply for legal permanent resident status. For those who qualify for immigration relief, the process can be extremely confusing and costly.
Applications carry large fees, and require mountains of proof and documentation. Heavy bureaucracy slows down almost every application and creates frustration on all sides. Because of these various factors that make the system so difficult to navigate, people are advised to hire an immigration attorney to guide you through the process. Unfortunately, that is simply not financially possible for many families.
The limited scope of our immigration system is inconsistent with our competitive globalized economy and damages the possibilities of our nation. Our current system offers no solutions to undocumented immigrants, and the incredibly low number of visas available prevents thousands from entering the country. Not only do we have nearly 12 million undocumented workers residing in our nation who could positively impact our economy, but we also have thousands of skilled workers patiently waiting behind red tape, each hoping for a shot at a visa.
The result? We are missing out. We are missing out on billions of dollars in potential economic benefits, we are missing out on remaining competitive in scientific, technological, engineering and math markets, and we are entirely missing the main issue at hand: Immigration is about people.
There are families across the world who wait and depend on the hope that the United States will wake up and realize that immigration is beneficial, that we shouldn’t be scared to accept immigrants of all nationalities and that our country simply cannot continue to function with a broken and convoluted immigration system.
So, do we need executive action? We need any kind of action. It may have taken six years, but any kind of reform is long overdue. Who knows what this executive action may entail, or if it will even work. All I can hope is that it brings to light the real issues here: a lack of compromise and a lack of compassion.
Megan Shannon is a contributing columnist. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org