THE BLOG
07/16/2014 12:38 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2014

Who Will Qualify for Obama's Executive Order?

UPDATE: Jose Antonio Vargas has confirmed that he has been released from detention.

Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and director of Documented, a documentary about his experience as an undocumented immigrant brought to the country as a child, has been arrested and put into a privately-owned detention center while covering the warehoused child refugees of the border crisis. Leading up to Obama's executive order, this is a perfect snapshot of everything which is wrong with our system. While it is a safe bet that Jose won't be incarcerated for long due to his celebrity status and ICE not wanting to deal with it, it seems obvious he would be covered by Obama's executive order -- who else does it seem obvious for?

Jose was brought into the country as a child from the Philippines as a child, finding out he was undocumented at 17 when he tried to apply for a driver's license and was told his social security number was fake. In a climatic scene in his autobiographical documentary, Jose is told about DACA, a program to offer deportation relief, working papers and driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants brought here as children who were 30 years old or younger at the time of the program's announcement: Jose was 31, missing the cutoff by under a year.

Jose is currently in an immigrant prison because Congress and the president have failed him for so long: legislation is dead and, while DACA is much-needed relief, DACA clinics are filled with people who miss the arbitrary cutoff by months: they are still young people brought into the country as children that the program was designed to help, but must continue to wait. For those like Jose who have deep roots and have made significant contributions to society, it is hard to argue that Obama's executive order should not cover them; what other groups are no-brainers even in our crazed political times?

For starters, there are the 9/11 responders: the undocumented asbestos workers who helped to clear the wreckage at Ground Zero. Many lost their jobs as asbestos workers when licensing requirements were changed, and their status prevented them from meeting the requirements. To make things worse, although they are receiving health care at Mt. Sinai hospital under the World Trade Center Health Program as part of the Zadroga Act, this will run out in 2016; many of those ill may not manifest symptoms for years and, as of now, they would not be covered.

Then there are the deported soldiers. Although there has been some progress, like the Parole in Place program that offers relief to many military families, the U.S. still has a number of deported veterans abroad. For those veterans abroad, getting military benefits that soldiers within the U.S. still struggle with is all but impossible.

Much like Jose, there are many people who would fall under the broad category of being a "DREAMer," someone brought into the country as a child who has never been able to adjust their status, but miss one of several arbitrary cutoffs in DACA to qualify. Removing the age cap and changing the criteria to allow more DREAMers to qualify may be the easiest thing that Obama could do. Expanding DACA to include the parents of DREAMers who have been in the country and raised their families in the United States would probably be the second easiest.

Another group that is different than the others, but still very deserving of help, are the refugees and asylum seekers at the border: Jose Diaz Balart had a raw, heart-rending interview with a teenage girl, in tears, recalling the dead children she had seen, and sub-human conditions she was subjected to. Through that desert she fled to escape gang members who wanted her as property and had shot her brother in front of her. She may have run into sex traffickers, rapists, murderers, cartel smugglers... in addition to running the risk of dying from exposure in the deadly terrain she had to cross: it's a Mad Max land rife with predators of every stripe and a land that seems like it's actively trying to kill you. She escaped through, but certain death is waiting for her should she be deported to her home.

Her story is symbolic of tens of thousands of children fleeing conditions where girls are literally gang-raped, dismembered and spread out alongside the road to school to send a message to the rest of the girls about refusing to be their property. They aren't coming to America to live the American Dream, they're fleeing the Central American nightmare as refugees that the United States, as the richest country in the world, has an obligation to help. While we understand these children were not contemplated as much when Obama announced he would come up with an executive order, refugees are the most vulnerable of all immigrants, and sending them back is a death sentence for many of these children.

This is by no means exhaustive: as we get closer to the executive order, we will hear from groups of immigrants that we had not heard from before, explaining the unique needs of their communities. While Obama's order will be temporary and limited by a constitution that only allows a president to do so much alone, there is much that he can do, and seemingly no end to those who both need and deserve help.