One of my chief complaints about the Obama administration (of which there are only a few, mind you) is their relative silence on the immigration debate. Immigration policy in this country is extremely broken, and one of the reasons I supported Obama’s candidacy in 2008 was based on the promise of immigration reform.
Today, the president addressed immigration with the announcement that he had signed an Executive Order to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants. Under the new policy, those who entered the country illegally while 16 or younger, who are currently 30 or younger, who have lived in the U.S. continuously for up to five years, and who can demonstrate a successful academic or military history in this country, can delay deportation proceedings for up to two years and can also apply for a work permit, which would grant them legal (non-citizen) status.
As an Asian-American, I am particularly excited by this announcement. A significant percentage (69% in 2000) of Asian Americans are foreign-born immigrants; thus, any change in immigration policy will substantially impact our community. More specifically however, Asians make up the second largest illegal immigrant population at 1.4 million (and represent ~13% of all illegal immigrants). Although statistics are understandably hard to come by, the majority of Asian illegal immigrants are believed to be visa overstays, who remain in the country after their tourist or student visas have expired, and often to raise young families. Consequently, the number of young Asian illegal immigrants whose parents brought them into this country at a young age and who would be affected by President Obama’s announcement could be significant. When California legalized enrollment of young illegal immigrants into the UC school system in 2o01, an estimated 40% of undocumented students in that state were of Asian descent by 2005.
In my mind, President Obama’s press conference today was a landmark announcement that brings us one step closer not only to realizing the DREAM Act, but which will also reinvigorate the immigration debate. It signals the administration’s ongoing interest in reforming immigration policy so that it is motivated less by irrational, racial and ethnic xenophobia and conservative fear-mongering, and is based more on encouraging the influx and retention of immigrants based on their demonstrated skill and education. This can only benefit America: attracting more potential business-owners, scientists, and engineers will stimulate the American economy by enhancing the quality of its workforce.
Way to go, President Obama. I, for one, totally approve.