Many immigrants in the United States just had the best day of their lives. Barack Obama’s executive order — that will protect more than 4 million immigrants from deportation and will also give them work permits — was not everything we were hoping for, but it is cause for celebration. Yes we could.
This is a clear victory for the Latino community. This isn’t something they gave us; it is something we fought for. We are going from just being large in number — more than 55 million — to having some small amount of power. It was time. This is the most important immigration reform in almost 50 years — since the change to immigration laws in 1965. President Obama’s reform will affect more people than the amnesty of 1986, which legalized 3 million people.
No one wanted it, but it was achieved anyways. We cannot forget that the Republicans and their leader, John Boehner, blocked immigration reform in the House of Representatives earlier this year. They refused to vote on the Senate’s plan, or to propose a new one. This pushed President Obama to the edge.
We have to recognize the situation. Obama did not think he had the legal authority to protect millions of undocumented immigrants, either. He said it to me personally, and repeated it many times. “I am not a king,” he said once. “I am not the emperor of the United States,” he said on another occasion, but his position evolved, his point of view changed, and now, he does believe that he has the authority to do what he did on Nov. 20.
He’s right. This is precisely what presidents do: They make executive decisions about the country’s biggest problems. Republican presidents, like Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr., also made executive decisions — in 1987 and 1990, respectively — to benefit millions of undocumented immigrants. It’s hypocritical to criticize Obama for doing the same thing.
What caused this change in President Obama’s attitude? First, it was the intransigence of Republicans in Congress; second, the enormous pressure that Dreamers — undocumented students — Hispanic members of Congress, Latino organizations and journalists put on the White House. But I believe that deep down, this was something personal. It was a pending debt. The president made us a promise in 2008 — to present an immigration bill in Congress in his first year of presidency — and he didn’t come through, even though the Democrats had control of both houses of Congress. This error has weighed on him for his entire presidency. The executive decision he just took is a way of compensating for this unfulfilled promise, and of making peace with the Hispanic community. This is, of course, my own personal interpretation. Whether it’s true or not, millions of people are thankful that he did it. This executive action is only the first step. Many are still on the outside. It hurts in particular that it does not include the fathers of the Dreamers, and let us not forget that it is temporary, and could be revoked by the next president. For this reason, our new objective is to make the presidential candidates from both parties agree to not revoke this decision and to promote permanent immigration reform for 2017. Meanwhile, it is important to inform Mexicans and Central Americans who are thinking about coming to the United States that they will not qualify under this executive action. It is only for those who are already here, for those who arrived before Jan. 1, 2010. It would be very dangerous to come, and above all, a waste of time and money. Last, I have to recognize that the U.S. has been incredibly generous to me, and that this presidential decision re-affirms my conviction that in the end, this can be a great country for immigrants. Thanks. Really.