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What do you think of the President's plan to put a hold on deportation of undocumented children of immigrants, and how will it impact Florida?
Rich Bard's picture
Rich Bard
Immigration has been a hot-button issue in American politics. The proposed DREAM Act, which would end deportations for children of undocumented immigrants and provide a path to citizenship, has languished in the politically polarized Congress. Advocates for immigrants have welcomed the temporary ban on deportations but criticized the policy for its lack of a long-term fix. The President’s political opponents have castigated him for bypassing Congress, and immigration hardliners have labeled it amnesty.
Holly R. Skolnick
President of the AI Justice Board of Directors and a shareholder in the litigation department at Greenberg Traurig, P.A.

Just a few weeks ago, the conventional political wisdom was that another year would go by without any type of relief for DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants who have been raised in the United States.  Although various DREAM Act proposals have been introduced in Congress in the last decade and many enjoyed bipartisan support, none overcame Senate filibusters.  Even U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's bill offering DREAMers limited relief was unlikely to go anywhere this year.  Republican leaders never supported it, and Democrats criticized it because it didn’t offer a path to citizenship.

Americans for Immigrant Justice (formerly “FIAC”) represents many Dreamers who couldn’t wait.  They lived in legal limbo for years, fear deportation to countries barely known, can't get driver’s licenses, and face limited opportunity to access higher education, the military or employment.  We didn't just listen to their concerns; we joined with DREAMers and other national advocates taking a leading role in urging the Administration to grant temporary relief pending congressional action.

In April, AI Justice Executive Director Cheryl Little published a column in The Miami Herald commending Rubio for opening a political door to DREAM Act issues.  She noted that the kind of temporary relief proposed by Rubio could be accomplished administratively: The President and DHS had discretionary authority to allow provisional legal status for DREAMers.  In the absence of congressional action, she challenged the Administration to act.  White House and DHS officials read the column the day it ran, and news stories referenced the op-ed.

AI Justice also drafted a legal memo on the authority to grant provisional relief and went to the White House with DREAMers to discuss the issue in May.  Meanwhile, nearly 100 immigration law professors nationwide wrote President Obama clarifying his authority to act.  Less than three weeks later, the Obama Administration made its historic announcement.  DHS would stop deporting DREAMers who met certain criteria.  It offered them provisional legal status and a chance to get work permits and driver’s licenses.

The positive effect of this policy cannot be overstated. Florida DREAMers come from all corners of the world.  Some arrived by boat from the Caribbean.  Others, including Africans and Central and South Americans, arrived by plane.  Central and South Florida also host a growing Eastern European and Asian population.  Florida is positioned to tap this homegrown immigrant talent.  DREAMers with diverse talents and heritage will redouble their contributions to the place they call home.

The new policy has limits.  There is still no path to permanent legal status.  It can be revoked at any time and ignores the other 10 million people currently living in this country without legal status.  Yet the Administration’s action remains an important first step toward a rational and humane immigration policy.  Congress needs to work toward sensible, long-term immigration solutions that honor our nation’s values as they promote our prosperity

U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams
The former Orange County deputy sheriff and state legislator represents Florida's 24th District

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will stop deporting and begin giving work permits to illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.  This election-year stunt by President Obama is not only bad policy, but it adds to the long list of abuses of power from this administration.

Over the past three and a half years, Americans have witnessed a president that has little regard for our nation’s Constitution.  Time and time again, President Obama has unilaterally made important policy decisions while ignoring the rule of law.  Most recently, we have seen this in his decision to invoke executive privilege over Operation Fast and Furious.

By granting amnesty to potentially hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, President Obama’s policy shift will have massive ramifications for the 23 million unemployed or underemployed Americans looking for jobs.  It could also prove devastating to the 53.6 percent of American college graduates who are looking for work. 

An announcement of this magnitude five months out from the political fight of his life is also a clear sign of desperation from the president.  In 2010, President Obama asked the Democrat-led Congress to pass the Dream Act.  When they did not, outside groups encouraged the president to use an executive order, to which he responded, “That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.” Now that he is polling neck and neck with Gov. Mitt Romney, President Obama has drastically changed his opinion.

The president’s unilateral immigration move will incentivize fraud and abuse by encouraging illegal immigrants to falsely claim they came here as children or that they are under the age of 30.  It will also encourage parents to bring or smuggle their children illegally to the United States. Illegal immigration is already costing the country billions of dollars and the President’s decision will only cost taxpayers even more.

As an American citizen, I am deeply disappointed in the President of the United States.  As a lawmaker, I am concerned about the consequences of President Obama’s unilateral policy-making decisions.  And as a mother and a soon-to-be grandmother, I am fearful of the direction our country is heading. 

It is time for President Obama to start putting the interests of our country ahead of his reelection.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski
Archbishop of Miami

The Obama administration's recent decision to address the plight of young undocumented immigrants brought here to this country by their parents is welcome. While the President certainly had the authority to do this when he assumed office almost four years ago, for the potential beneficiaries it is “better late than never.”  The President acted now, possibly to outflank Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s recently floated proposal to do legislatively essentially what the President has now done administratively.

What Sen. Rubio proposed to do and what the President has done is, nevertheless, a far cry from the legislative fix that has languished in Congress since before 2006 -- legislation usually called “the DREAM ACT.”  The “DREAMERS” who meet certain criteria will be granted on a case by case basis what is called “deferred action.”  While Obama’s decision does not provide permanent legal residency or a clear path to U.S. citizenship, it does give these young people the opportunity to work and to pursue their education in this country until a more comprehensive reform of our broken immigration system can be achieved in the U.S. Congress.

However, the DREAMERS are still in Limbo – perhaps in a better part of Limbo, but Limbo nevertheless.  Some 800,000 young people throughout the United States may benefit.  Precise figures for Florida are not readily available but anecdotally a significant number of young immigrants in Florida could be eligible for this “deferred action.”  Nonprofit agencies such as the Archdiocese of Miami’s Catholic Legal Services are already gearing up to assist young people to navigate the application process, which, given the conditions announced by the Administration, is not necessarily going to be “user friendly.” 

These young people have grown up here in America:  They speak English like Americans, they think like Americans (sometimes to the consternation of their parents), they certainly eat like Americans. They only ask for the opportunity to be able to dream like Americans. “Deferred action,” while removing the threat of immediate deportation for these youth, is no substitute for passage of the DREAM ACT and for comprehensive and humane immigration reform. Unless Congress acts to do so, the DREAM for these and millions of other immigrants still remains a DREAM deferred.

Rich Bard's picture
Rich Bard
Associate Editor

Although U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida did not respond to Florida Voices’ question concerning the President’s plan to put a hold on deportations of undocumented children of immigrants, the Republican senator has spoken out publicly about the new Administration policy. His response has been characterized as cautious, according to media reports. Sen. Rubio has long talked about working on legislation that would have done legislatively what the Administration has done administratively.

“There is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own, but there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future,” Rubio was quoted as saying by Politico. He also called the new policy “welcome news” for those who have been in legal limbo.

He told the National Review: “If you were 4 years old when your parents brought you here illegally, and you have grown up here your whole life and don’t even speak Spanish, and you are your high school’s valedictorian, you have a lot to contribute to our future. It kind of feels weird to deport you.”

However, Sen. Rubio has criticized the Administration decision to bypass Congress.

“By once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one.”

Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, also responded cautiously to questions about whether he’d repeal Obama’s policy in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” broadcast June 24.

“This is something Congress has been working on, and I thought we were about to see some proposals brought forward by Senator Marco Rubio and by Democrat senators, but the President jumped in and said I’m going to take this action … [H]e was president for the last three and a half years and did nothing on immigration. Two years he had a Democrat House and Senate, did nothing of a permanent or long-term basis. What I would do, is I’d make sure that by coming into office, I would work with Congress to put in place a long-term solution for the children of those that have come here illegally. …

“[M]y anticipation is I’d come into office and say we need to get this done, on a long-term basis, not this kind of stop-gap measure. What the president did, he should have worked on this years ago, if he felt seriously about this he should have taken action when he had a Democrat House and Senate, but he didn’t. He saves these sorts of things until four and a half months before the general election.”

Republican hardliners have taken a more critical stance toward Obama’s policy.

“President Obama’s decision to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the American people. It also blatantly ignores the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy,” responded House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, according to Politico.

Laura L. Lichter
A Denver attorney and president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

For Florida, President Obama’s June 15 announcement that he would temporarily suspend the threat of deportation for certain young immigrants who can show they have been productive, law-abiding members of their communities means keeping families together and communities intact, and the hope of a new future for thousands of young Floridians. 

The measure will not provide a path to citizenship and presents only a temporary reprieve, but when you’re bleeding, you need a bandage.  You can’t wait while politicians squabble over who gets credit for reform. Those who qualify may now have a chance at a future in the only country many of them have ever known.  

Americans celebrate their identity as a nation of immigrants, and Florida is no less proud of its heritage. In this state that respects and honors its immigrant roots, nearly one in five Floridians is foreign-born, according to the 2010 Census. Nearly half of those are naturalized U.S. citizens -- and that means they are eligible to vote.

Florida’s economy -- like the United States’ as a whole -- is powered by immigrant innovation and ambition.  Immigrant workers contribute an estimated $20 billion to the state in taxes each year, according to a 2007 study by Florida International University, including $10.5 billion in federal taxes and $4.5 billion in state and local taxes. Even unauthorized immigrants were critical to the state’s revenues, paying over $800 million in state and local taxes in 2010.  On the other hand, if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Florida, the state would lose $43.9 billion in economic activity, $19.5 billion in gross state product, and approximately 262,436 jobs.

Florida -- unlike its neighbors -- has had enough sense not to rush into enacting discriminatory anti-immigrant measures. Who knows? Maybe in two years -- or less -- a change in administration could leave these productive young people high and dry. But for now, these young Floridians can come out of the shadows, and maybe, just maybe, have a chance to be the young Americans of their dreams. And if we’re lucky, it means America is beginning to leave the rhetoric aside and start a new conversation about real solutions for our broken immigration system.

Certainly, the move was long overdue, and this temporary reprieve will not solve our immigration debacle. But taking these bright young people out of the partisan debate that has plagued our immigration policy was the right thing to do, not only for America but for these young people who call America -- and Florida -- home.

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by Dr. Radut.