“On Thursday of last week, President Obama brought hope to half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America,” writes Catholic Charities Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services C. Mario Russell in his recent El Diario column.
“He did this in a way no other president has done before and showed America at its best.
- He promised to treat them with dignity and with compassion.
- He told them they would be given a fair chance to be part of society.
- He lifted from their shoulders the burdens of fear and uncertainty.”
Do you have questions about President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform and wonder how it may affect you?
Read Mr. Russell’s full El Diario column below:
Starting in the next several months, about 4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States—mothers, fathers, children—will be able to apply for “deferred action” status. If eligible, they will work legally in the United States for a few years without the daily anxiety of deportation. One estimate puts the number eligible in New York State at just under 340,000.
There are those who accuse the President of acting like a king, of making rules outside the law, and of doing something unprecedented. These accusations are legally and factually wrong. More important, they come from people who have used their power to frustrate the American people’s desire that immigrants be treated with dignity, compassion, and inclusion under the law. Facts are important: in 2013 comprehensive immigration reform did pass the Senate by a wide margin of votes, a bi-partisan vote for reform in the House of Representatives was blocked by Republican leaders, and 75% of Americans polled as recently as 3 days ago still support a plan for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.
America has always believed in basic truths about immigrants. Immigrants don’t threaten our way of life, they enrich it. Undocumented immigrants, like people, are not “illegal”; they just lack status. For hundreds of years they have married, grown families, prayed, and set roots in our communities. And they have worked hard. Undocumented immigrants added a net $100 billion to Social Security in the past 10 years, paid $11 billion in taxes in 2010, and will further contribute $45 billion in payroll taxes over the next 5 years if given work permits.
These truths go back a long time—as far as 1868—when Americans approved the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guaranteeing citizenship to the children of Chinese, Gypsy, and African slave immigrants, and to every person born on American soil. Senator John Conness of California, himself a naturalized Irish citizen, and a believer in justice for immigrants, said at the time in support of the amendment that immigrants were “entitled to equal civil rights.”
On Friday of last week, the day after Mr. Obama’s extraordinary announcement, I met with a Mexican family I have known for more than five years. The mother and father find day labor when they can. They pay taxes each year and live quiet, careful lives in upstate New York with their four young children. When they learned they would not qualify for Mr. Obama’s deferred action plan their faces fell; their anguish was barely contained.
This anguish is shared by millions. These are the people for whom America still needs to fulfill its promise of equal civil rights, a promise it spoke of more than 140 years ago.
Mario Russell is Senior Attorney and Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, 80 Maiden Lane, NY, NY 10038; he teaches immigration law at St. John’s University School of Law.
Click here to read this post online in Spanish.