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Obama's Immigration Action: What It All Means

  • Alex Villarreal

President Barack Obama signs two presidential memoranda associated with executive actions on immigration from his office on Air Force One upon his arrival in Las Vegas, Nevada, Nov. 21, 2014.

President Barack Obama signs two presidential memoranda associated with executive actions on immigration from his office on Air Force One upon his arrival in Las Vegas, Nevada, Nov. 21, 2014.

A new political fight is brewing in Washington after President Barack Obama announced executive action to protect nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

But what does the order actually mean? And who are the millions of people it affects?

Attorney Camille Mackler is director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition, a leading advocacy group for immigrant communities. She discussed some specifics about the action.

What does the executive action entail?

"The executive action announced by the president is a sweeping plan," said Mackler. "It contains about 10 points on ways in which the president thinks he can improve the system that currently exists to make things easier on those who can apply for [deportation] relief."

Mackler said the plan takes action "to prioritize who should be actively removed from the United States and who should be allowed to stay in the United States while they attempt to fix the broken system, so that communities and families are not torn apart."

What will the executive action do?

Mackler said the most impactful initiative Obama announced "is that he is going to be deferring taking any action on the cases of parents who have U.S. citizen or green-card-holding children, and who have been in the United States since January 1, 2010."

She said parents who fit that criteria, in addition to paying their taxes and having no criminal histories, "will be able to stay in the United States for three years without the fear of deportation and with work permits." She said that means they can work lawfully and get social security numbers, drivers licenses and bank accounts.

Who are the immigrants most affected?

Mackler said parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders will make up the largest number of immigrants affected by the plan.

She said the president is also relaxing the requirements for a program he created in 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program extends deportation relief and work authorization to immigrants who came to the country illegally as children. Previously, it was limited to those immigrants who were under the age of 31 when the policy was announced on June 15, 2012, but Mackler pointed out there will no longer be an age cap.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency says the initiative includes extending the period of DACA from two years to three years.

When will the changes take effect?

"Some of it is immediate," said Mackler. She said changes in the way the administration prioritizes who should be removed from the United States and whom they should be focusing their law enforcement resources on are "effective immediately."

Applications for those who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals will start to be accepted in 90 days, while the deferred action program for parents will go into effect in 180 days, around the end of May.

Republicans have vowed to fight this. Can they stop it?

"No," said Mackler. "[President Obama] is doing what the Constitution mandates him to do. He is carrying out the laws that Congress has passed."

"The immigration system is extremely complex," said Mackler. "It's huge, It's become far bigger since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. And it's just become unwieldy. And [the administration is] just sort of looking at it and saying, 'Okay, how can we make this more effective? And how can we make sure that we're maximizing the benefits to the United States?'"

"The Republicans talk about defunding [the president's action], but there are no taxpayer dollars going into this in the first place, so there is no way for Congress to defund anything."

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