Last week, President Obama made waves across the country when he announced his new executive orders on immigration. By some estimates, these actions stand to impact the lives of over 5 million undocumented people in the United States. The plan has many pieces that are each aimed at addressing different populations and protecting families and young people from deportation.
Texas has one of the largest populations of undocumented immigrants in the country, and so it stands to reason that this executive action will be incredibly important for our state.
One such piece expands previous attempts to address the population of young people who had grown up in the United States and who, because of their status, faced the threat of deportation at an age where their peers were applying to college. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, DACA, went into effect in 2012 and only applied to those who had come to the country before 2007. Many young people in Texas took advantage of this opportunity. As of March 2013, there had been over 75,000 applications for DACA in Texas, and almost 50,000 of those applications had been approved.
Obama’s new executive action expands the population that is eligible for the DACA program to those who arrived to the country before 2010, adding three years to the previously-determined threshold. The executive action also extends the period of work authorization under DACA from two to three years, which is incredibly important for these young people, and the Texas economy.
Key to this executive order are the American-born children of undocumented parents. The Pew Hispanic Center found that 7% of the children in America in 2009 were born to undocumented parents, which may not seem like a lot, but when you look at the breakdown just within children born to undocumented parents the impact becomes much more clear. That same year, Pew found that 79% of the children of undocumented parents were American-born citizens. Now, under the President’s most recent executive action, this will make the difference between deportation and documents for many of these parents in the United States.
Through his executive actions, Obama is creating access to employment authorization and deferred action for the parents of U.S. citizens who have been present since 2010, as well as increasing the ability for many different kinds of family members of U.S. citizens to apply for these same programs. By focusing on these family ties that keep people in the United States, Obama is effectively humanizing an issue that is far too often characterized by xenophobia and anger, which is a definite step in the right direction for the immigration conversation.
His executive actions also create avenues to address those who want to come and work, but not immigrate, as well as increasing the options for payment for fees associated with naturalization.
These executive actions don’t cover everyone. For the parents of DACA-qualified young people, for example, there is no new protection, as their children are still not U.S. citizens. The extension of work authorization under DACA from two to three years is also helpful, but it fails to offer a permanent solution for undocumented students in Texas.
Though it is not perfect, these executive actions will bring positive outcomes to many undocumented people living in Texas. By reducing the fear of deportation for nearly half of the undocumented people in the United States and creating a pathway to gainful employment, President Obama has opened a door to economic engagement for many undocumented immigrants both in Texas and across the country. And through these orders, focused on keeping families together, the President has started the long struggle to ensuring that no more Texas families are driven apart by deportation – and that is a beautiful thing.