Last week, I watched President Obama deliver a speech urging not only Congress to take real steps toward immigration reform, but announce that he would sign an executive order that would prevent the deportation of immigrants who have been in the United States for at least five years and protect those immigrants brought here when they were small children. I couldn't have been more proud and think this is a crucial step forward in the fight for immigration reform.
In Obama's speech, I heard shades of family life. I am the daughter of immigrants. When a military coup seized control of my father's country's government, he fled with the assistance of Americans who lived in his country. He wore only the clothes on his back, told no one he was leaving including his parents and siblings and made his way to safety in America. My mother had a dream of working in health care and not entirely different from President Obama's father, came to America on a student visa, to get a higher education. She wanted to return to her homeland and be a health care provider in her village, but civil war broke out in her nation and a return was untenable. My parents settled down to lives as Americans, raising their American born children secure in freedom and opportunity.
Though my parents worked hard to shield us from most of it, times were hard. Money was tight. When President Obama mentioned the immigrant father who worked three jobs, to provide for his family, I thought of my dad who did the same. My mother worked two jobs at one point, but was told to slow down a bit while she was pregnant. Today my father is a professor at an American university and my mother a registered nurse at an American hospital. They are naturalized citizens and contributors to the place they have called home for over 30 years.
What kind of America turns their back on those who come here seeking a better life? As a student of history, certainly not the America I learned about and studied growing up. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door." These words are on the Statue of Liberty. The Statue was the first thing seen by many immigrants coming from across the world as their ship coasted into the New York harbor from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. From the Pilgrims escaping religious persecution to the immigrants today escaping civil war, economic depression, persecution of all types. We have always been the country that held a lamp by its golden door for those seeking a better life.
What President Obama proposes is not amnesty. First because the executive actions prioritize deporting those who would be a threat to our national security and public safety, like gang members and violent criminals, not families. Second, it doesn't automatically make the 5 million undocumented workers he's referring to automatic citizens. His executive action provides a pathway to citizenship for identified undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes. These immigrants finally get a chance to not hide in the shadows and contribute to their communities. Something these immigrants have always wanted.
To be sure, some would say this executive action is another example of President Obama overreaching. But this order is necessary in light of the fact nothing has been done in Congress to address immigration reform in years while the population of undocumented immigrants has increased in that time. From 1990 to 2007 the population of undocumented individuals in the United States has grown from 3.5 million to 11 million people. Mass deportation, as some have suggested, is not feasible. Additionally, in taking executive action on immigration, President Obama would not only be following in the footsteps of every U.S. president since 1956, Republican AND Democrat, but legal experts support this executive order saying it's in line with the legal authority of the Office of the President of the United States. The President is not overreaching but is leading on an issue that needs to be addressed.
In the coming days, Congress will be faced with what they will do in the face of these executive orders because they are a temporary fix. All we need is for Congress to do something that it has struggled to do for a while, ACT. Congress needs to act, because not only will our country economically benefit from millions of new workers entering the workforce, but because it is the right thing, the American thing, to do.