Family Time

Originally published on 12/24/2014

This year approximately 4 million undocumented immigrants can enjoy the company of relatives and friends during the holidays without fear of deportation, thanks to President Obama’s recent executive action.  The President’s latest action is a companion to his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA allowed immigrants under 30 who arrived as children to apply for deportation deferral. The President’s new action allows immigrants who are older than 30, but who arrived before they turned 16, to also apply for deportation deferral. More broadly, the action offers legal reprieve for undocumented parents of US citizens and permanent residents who have resided in this country for at least five years, and removes some barriers to work permits.

The merits of these actions go beyond the human comfort and joy of a season now free from the worry of deportation. Reform measures also increase funds for border security, and extend opportunities for visas to those who come here to invest or to pursue science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) degrees. All worthy actions, as immigration deportations, which increased under President Obama to 369,000 in 2014, cannot possibly exit every undocumented individual; indeed, even at the recent accelerated deportation rate, it would take 30 years to deport all currently undocumented immigrants.

The action will create numerous benefits. Immigration reform will not increase the number of unauthorized immigrants in the US, which, according to the non-partisan Pew Research Center, has declined from a 2007 peak of 12.2MM at the end of the Bush Administration, to 11.3MM today.

The President’s action will help stabilize the federal debt by increasing documented participation of younger immigrants who will work and pay taxes without drawing Social Security or Medicare for many years. It will raise wages of workers already in the country. Leaders in both parties recognize these facts. “Immigration reform will help our economy,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in September.

Polls conducted by PEW, GFK, CBS/NYT among others demonstrate that a significant majority of Americans believe a path to stay/legal status is a good idea; October 2014 data indicates anywhere from 54% to 71% support this idea–depending upon how the question is phrased.

So what does it mean for the future?  Our documented work force will reflect increased diversity, as immigrants from Mexico (50%+), other Latin American countries and Asia emerge from the shadows.  Our societal needs for accelerated development of innovations in science, tech and engineering will be better met by extended opportunities for visas for those in tech fields or those who invest here. Our citizens increasingly will be interested in reforms and in strengthening the climate and culture around these subjects. And our community and family life will be strengthened, as immigrants remain tied to the generations and the roots established here and to the contributions they are making to daily life in cities and towns across the country.  It’s a good time for families.

Susan D. Cocco is Chair of the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee, which supplies this column.