In a 15-minute address Thursday night, President Obama issued an executive order that will expand protections and opportunities for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and their families. Last year, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but House speaker John Boehner didn’t let the House vote on it, claiming that Republicans didn’t trust Obama’s administration to effectively implement it. Yesterday’s executive order, which is expected to protect up to 5 million people, sidesteps Congress completely.
In short, the immigration reform will:
- Offer temporary legal status to undocumented parents of children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, allowing them to apply for work permits (on the basis that they’ve lived in the United States for a minimum of 5 years, pay taxes and pass a background check)
- Expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which allows people who were brought into the United States as children to apply for deportation deferrals and work permits—by extending the eligibility cutoff from 2007 to Jan. 1, 2010.
- Reallocate all of the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement resources to deporting undocumented immigrants who are criminals (rather than deporting law-abiding people).
- Expedite the process of reuniting families who have been broken up due to immigration obstacles.
- Create a faster, easier process for highly skilled workers and entrepreneurs to move and change jobs, rather than waiting years for approved working visas.
President Obama’s executive order has a particular impact on women, who make up 51 percent of the immigrant population. Immigration reform is, at its core, a women’s issue: According to the National Network for Immigrant and Refuge Rights, most women immigrate to the United States in order to “reunite with family, to make a better life for their children, or to escape oppression, discrimination and violence that prevent them from living full and free lives in their home countries.”
Thanks to Obama’s executive action, many women will now be able to focus on creating and cultivating fulfilling lives, rather than constantly fearing deportation. Additionally, many more undocumented women can now vocalize workplace injustice and domestic violence without fear of deportation.
While this is a giant step forward for immigration reform, there is still work to be done: The current plan does not extend benefits of the Affordable Care Act to undocumented immigrants. In a press release following Obama’s announcement, Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal said:
Although the announced executive actions are an important first step, we continue to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will reach all immigrants and that will ensure that everyone has access to comprehensive health care. The current plan does not enable taxpaying immigrants who qualify for temporary relief to access the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care marketplaces, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
According to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, the 6.6 million undocumented women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more than twice as likely to be uninsured, as compared to their native-born and naturalized counterparts. Lack of health insurance makes women more susceptible to cervical and other cancers and sexually transmitted infections, and more likely to become pregnant unexpectedly.
Thus, while we join people around the country in applauding President Obama’s efforts, there is still significant work to be done. In reference to the immigration reform, Obama said during the address, “That’s the real amnesty—leaving this broken system the way it is.” The lack of access to health care is the next “broken system” that needs fixing.
Screenshot taken from The White House‘s Youtube video of the announcement.