President Obama outlined his decision on immigration policy today, granting relief and work permits for approximately 800,000 “DREAMers” brought to America as children. And in the middle of his announcement, Neil Munro, a writer for the right-wing Daily Caller, interrupted the President and asked him why he was taking the side of foreigners over Americans.
As President Obama laid this out today, it became clear that opposition to the DREAM Act is rooted in basically bullying or misplaced anger, which became evident with Munro’s interruption. Here’s how the President framed the DREAMers affected by this announcement. “They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, their minds, in every single way but one – on paper… Put yourself in their shoes… you’ve done everything right your entire life, only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country you know nothing about. It makes no sense to expel talented young people, who for all intents and purposes are Americans… simply because of the actions of their parents or the inaction of politicians.”
That’s what Neil Munro railed against today, yelling out to the President on why he puts foreigners above Americans. “The next time I prefer you let me finish my statements before you ask a question,” Obama said, adding that “This is the right thing to do for the American people… these young people are going to make extraordinary contributions and are already making contributions to our society.”
I had a chance to ask Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) about this outburst and how it reflects the divisiveness of our immigration policies over the past several years. “It’s a perfect example of what the President and those of us who want to fix our immigration policy have faced,” he said. “This resistance, in some cases irrational resistance to a simple fix. Maybe the reporter doesn’t get it. The President is trying to make system work effectively… The reporter is emblematic of what America has faced trying to do a sensible reform of our immigration laws. I expect we’ll face more of that.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has already announced that he will sue the Obama Administration over the changes to the policy, saying that he believes this action would require legislative approval rather than an administrative order out of the Department of Homeland Security. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) batted this down. “I believe this will be very sustainable,” Menendez said. “For example, Democratic and Republican Presidents gave status to all Cubans coming into this country. The President has the authority to give a qualified group of individuals a pending status. It’s something Republicans should not litigate. They have the opportunity to pursue legislation, and have chosen not to.”
All supporters of the policy shift, including in the White House, cautioned that it’s nothing but a temporary solution, one that could easily be overturned by a future President with a different perspective, and one that’s pretty carefully circumscribed to not provide a new status or a path to citizenship. So they highlighted the need for Congressional action to secure the changes. “Precisely because this is temporary, it’s time to act,” the President said.
In a conference call, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) added, “This is not immigration reform, it’s a solution for 7% of the undocumented in the US. We need to work on their moms and their dads.” He did add that his community had an excitement after the announcement, “a feeling of a promise kept.” Local Latino communities saw impromptu rallies today.
Reps. Becerra and Gutierrez also cautioned that the details were still being finalized, so immigrants who may be eligible for the program needed to exercise appropriate skepticism. Becerra warned of fraudsters who would claim to be able to help DREAMers negotiate the system for a work permit, and rip them off.
I’ll leave a couple of official statements on the flip.
UPDATE: The Daily Caller is “proud” of their reporter’s conduct today.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ):
This is a sensible solution that allows us, as a national community, to help hundreds of thousands of young adolescents trapped in legal limbo. This is a wonderful day for them, their families, and the many millions of us who believe in fairness and opportunity. I applaud President Obama’s decision to extend the American dream to a new generation of deserving individuals.
Those with deep roots in the United States who have contributed immensely to our country’s well-being will — at long last — be taken out of the deportation pool so we can concentrate our resources on real threats and serious criminals. This makes our nation safer and upholds our nation’s commitment to fairness and justice.
While this change is not a permanent solution, it is a major step in the right direction. The rhetoric of division and marginalizing of people by Mitt Romney and the Republican party needs to end. We are past the point of obstruction. We need to solve the problem. This action by President Obama will move us forward together as a country and as a single American people.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL):
For a year and a half after the DREAM Act was filibustered, I have been standing with others and saying to the President ‘yes you can’ prevent the deportation of DREAMers and now he and the Secretary clearly agree and are taking proper action. This could protect 800,000 or more young immigrants with roots here right now, and will be seen in the immigrant and Latino community as a very significant down payment on broader reform. It is the right thing to do and I am overjoyed and proud that the President has acted.
DREAMers who came here at a young age have grown up believing that our country would eventually embrace them as much as they have embraced this country and now that is coming true, at least on a provisional basis. No group of young immigrants has fought harder or more bravely for their place in our country than the DREAMers and we have all taken a lesson from their tenacity and leadership.
The details of this program are still being finalized, so immigrants across the country should be patient and very skeptical of anyone who claims to have all the answers immediately. I was told the government needs at least 60 days to put things in place and I will work with the President and Secretary Napolitano to get clear and accurate information out about who does and does not qualify for the relief in the Secretary’s memo as soon as possible.
This will be a process to evaluate each individual case to see if they qualify for the two-year relief, but it is a tremendous first step towards addressing the problems caused by our outdated and inflexible immigration system.
But this is a time to celebrate. The DREAMers are not the sum total of the immigration issue and even with today’s announcement, the DREAM Act legislation is still needed to give people permanent relief beyond the two-year reprieve. And many other immigrants with no criminal history and deep roots here deserve the same consideration and we will keep fighting for them.
This sets the ball in motion to break the gridlock and fix our laws so that people who live here can do so legally and on-the-books and people can come with visas instead of smugglers in the first place. Today the students are being protected, but we have to fix the system for their families and for the country once and for all.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
Every year, tens of thousands of young people who were raised as Americans, in American schools, cannot benefit from the opportunities afforded by a college education simply because of their parents’ mistakes. Today, the Obama Administration took a momentous step forward in bringing these DREAM students out of the shadows so they can contribute to the success of our nation. As Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I am particularly grateful for what today’s announcement will mean for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who account for one out of every ten DREAM eligible students. CAPAC commends the President for taking actions to address our nation’s outdated and broken immigration system, and we hope this serves as a wake-up call for Congress to move forward with the legislative solutions that our country needs.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA):
As Chair Emeritus and an American, I am proud to stand with President Obama’s landmark decision to protect young, hardworking, and high-achieving DREAMers and make us achieve a perfect union. Of the plus 200,000 DREAM students from Asia, 40% are from my home state of California. These young people already contribute to our society and economy, and we owe them a chance to continue their pursuit of the American life and dream. Today, our President gave them this chance. Let this be a clarion call to Congress to rise and do our part to make their dream a reality.