By Joel Bander, Senior Columnist
Selecting the traditional June graduation weekend President Obama finally took a first grand step toward real immigration reform by issuing an executive order stopping removal proceedings against, and providing work authorization for, innocent, essentially criminally free, alien minors illegally in the United States for over five years, arriving in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, and having completed high school or served in the military.
America’s immigration reform has been held hostage by a small xenophobic group of Congressional House Republicans bent on blocking immigration reform from the beginning of former President George W. Bush’s term. Bush was generally an immigration reform moderate favoring reasonable measures but was unable or unwilling to use political capital to make the necessary changes, particularly after 9/11.
Now, this anti-immigrant right wing group of Republicans is more than happy to place all possible road blocks to any proposal of a progressive Democratic president or pass restrictive racial profiling laws, such as in Arizona. The unabashed strategy of the entire Republican Party has been a strategy of disagreeing on almost everything so Obama appears unable to perform his job. However, this Republican strategy has caused distress to an innocent class of children of illegal aliens. President Obama has refined the class to those with at least a high school education or military service without any significant criminal history.
On a personal level, after over fifteen years of practicing immigration law and meeting with thousands of potential clients, hearing their stories, and having to turn away so many people who had no legal hopes for relief and to normalize a life in America, this is a most welcome step. They are almost were always good kids, and in reality, American kids.
Are the xenophobic Republicans going to say that these aliens, brought here when they were minors, acculturated to American ways, graduated high school or with military service, and without serious blemishes on their criminal record, should be torn from America while a Republican House of Representatives blocks any meaningful immigration reform? Are these kids to just be left in the abyss, either having to work in the shadows without work authorization, or be forced to return to a native land they do not really know?
We continue to live under the somewhat arcane immigration system brought on by Newt Gingrich’s mid 90s Contract on America passing draconian Illegal Immigration and Immigration Responsibility Act (IRAIRA) of 1996. Republicans have long touted that we must first protect our borders. All statistics demonstrate that illegal immigration into America has been drastically stemmed. Now that it has been accomplished it is time to start caring for our American children.
Gov. Romney, the presumed Republican presidential candidate, has criticized the order as ‘political’ but has declined to state whether he would reverse it if he became president. Romney is in his usual fix, having to satisfy the right wing and still appeal to the rest of the American people.
The president’s move is also good public policy. Our immigration courts are woefully overburdened, with cases currently taking years to litigate. America is able to retain a moderately educated base and above, and we will not have a generation that will continue to live secretly in legal limbo as castaways. They are still in some legal legal limbo until the Congress passes immigration reforms, but at least protected from deportation and have the ability to work legally until the Congress finally acts. And since all these illegal alien children have had the benefit of taxpayer dollars education, why shouldn’t the American economy now benefit, above the table, from that educational investment?
Latino immigrant groups have high visibility to be involved in this fight. However, Filipino Americans leaders should be standing beside them in the forefront. I meet so many fine educated leaders and no lack of university-educated, undocumented, children. Hopefully, these eloquent leaders must now be an active part of this discussion so that the new emerging rules benefit all immigrant groups, and not only the obviously more powerful, important voting block of Spanish speakers. I would particularly point to my friends at the Asian Journal, with over 100,000 copies of their newspaper hitting the streets in Southern and Northern California, Las Vegas and New York, every week, could have a real impact on this debate, but instead sit on their hands and only dryly report the news. In contrast, consider the actions of Spanish language radio stations turning out thousands of Latinos into the streets to protect their countrymen. Hence, immigration decisions are skewed to that community.
America is by definition a country of immigrants. If we ever stopped losing new immigrants the identity of the country would be adversely impacted, like a musical form that is not allowed to grow. Similarly, Filipinos can only grow in America if they are willing to use their clout for issues that really matter. Now is a good time, particularly because we presently have a president who is listening and cares about immigrants and their families. It is time for the Fil-Am community to graduate as well.