11/21/2014 04:19 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

If Obama Was Tired of Waiting on Immigration, So Were We

Now he knows how we felt.

While I'm still digesting the details of President Obama's executive actions on immigration, one thing is abundantly clear: The President got sick of waiting for others to act. Now let's see what his changes can accomplish.

Immigration activists have been frustrated by the inaction for so many years. That's why I introduced the TRUST Act four years ago, although Gov. Brown vetoed it the first time the Legislature passed it. While elected officials at the federal level have done nothing, we have watched a huge segment of the American population living in fear of deportation.

The people who are harvesting our food, cleaning homes and hotels and working in high-tech should be allowed to focus on building their lives, not on covering their tracks. Immigrants are in every part of the economy and in every state. By threatening them with deportation, we are threatening the fabric of our communities.

Immigration policy is the job of the government at the national level, but that does not mean we can't address some of its impacts locally. When I was a San Francisco Supervisor, I pushed to make sure immigrants, including the undocumented were covered under our Healthy San Francisco program for medical care. It helps everybody.

I also pushed for a municipal ID card that would allow people who couldn't get a driver's license or show a passport to go about their daily lives with banking and utilities and so on.

The foundation of these efforts is to make our country a welcoming place for those who want to contribute, for those struggling to escape poverty and oppression in other countries. When I was elected to the California Assembly, I took the struggle there, aided by the activists who have been pushing for rational policy for so long.

The TRUST Act was a simple response to the so-called Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. S-Comm was sold as something that would get rid of bad actors. Instead, it used our state and local resources to carry out misguided federal immigration policy. We pointed out how S-Comm was used against people who did nothing worse than have a barking dog or run a stop sign. We showed how it was breaking communities apart, instead of protecting them.

With a few years of work, we got it through the Legislature and signed by the Governor.

All these things we had to do, because the federal officials wouldn't get their act together and create a reasonable policy. We got tired of waiting.

Obama finally got tired, too. Even the people who seem to just want a border wall have lost patience, as we saw with the immigration grandstanding of the Sacramento Sheriff this past week.

Now the President has acted and, predictably, he's being criticized for it. Much of the talk in the press is how it affects things politically. Do the Democrats lose? How will the Republicans react? (Besides another silly lawsuit, I mean.)

The real question should be: How will this affect human beings?

For a few million people, it means an opportunity to lose a little fear and, above all, to avoid deportations that destroy families and damage communities.

I don't think it goes far enough. First of all, it's just a temporary reprieve. It's like saying: We promise we won't lay you off now, but maybe in three weeks it'll be different. It's not what you want to hear. We need to do more to move people toward citizenship, or at least permanent legal status. And we need to do it for more classes of people, not just for parents of children born here; not just for people brought here when they were young.

It isn't just for their sake. It's for the sake of having healthy communities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in California.

The immigration activists and I will be watching to see what positive impacts this has. But we won't just be watching. We've waited too long. We will keep working on local solutions and pushing leaders like Obama to act.

Ideally, we would see Congress working together and with the President to enact long-lasting immigration reform. We need laws that take a realistic approach to the millions of people who are already here. We're tired of waiting, and the President - to his credit - got tired of waiting, too. We are glad that he has acted.

And we will keep letting the national leaders know how we feel.