Almost two months have passed since President Obama’s executive order on illegal immigration, and it still strikes a nerve with folks on both sides of the political spectrum. Many republicans have complained that the President overstepped his bounds. Some democrats rolled their eyes, wondering why it took so long to confront such a serious issue. Putting partisan politics aside, it is important to understand exactly what and whom the President’s executive order actually covers and protects.
First off, the executive order is NOT a path to naturalization. The President’s speech, while quite extensive, included nary a word nor even an intimation to eventual permanent legal status for undocumented immigrants. In a nutshell, the order allows temporary legal status to certain undocumented immigrants. Basically, if you fit into certain undocumented immigrant classifications, register yourself with the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), pay your taxes, and steer clear of the criminal justice system, you can gain temporary legal and working status in the United States.
The executive order is truly a double-edged sword. On one hand, nearly 5 million individuals living within our borders would now have the ability to declare themselves legal working U.S. immigrants (albeit for a finite period of time). The other side of the coin, though, is that so many of those 5 million will ignore President Obama’s order out of fear of outing themselves as illegal. A likely viewpoint amongst the undocumented community is that registering status with USCIS brings about the potential of future deportation, depending upon the actions of a future Congress. “Why put our names out there in the open when we don’t know how a future president and Congress will treat the situation?” While this perspective is speculative, many within the undocumented community prefer to abide by the paradoxical concept of playing it safe by staying illegal. Therein lies the problem with the President’s executive order. Despite the idealism of the message, it remains to be seen whether undocumented immigrants will take President Obama up on his offer.