President Obama’s executive order on immigration is not getting a warm reception from the Mid-Columbia’s current and future congressmen. But others say it is an important first step toward fixing a fractured system.
A recent Pew Research Center study estimated there are 230,000 immigrants illegally residing in Washington, and about 105,000 could be impacted by Obama’s decision to grant a temporary reprieve from deportation.
Obama could be forcing Congress to act on larger reform that could help even more of them, said Pasco attorney Tom Roach, who has worked in immigration law for 31 years.
The House of Representatives has refused to act on the issue despite the Senate passing immigration reform by a bipartisan 68-32 vote in June 2013 with strong public support, Roach said.
“The House of Representatives is so dysfunctional on this issue, that, contrary to John Boehner saying it’s going to poison the well, I think it’s going to prime the pump and force the issue,” he said.
Roach helped around 60 people attain legal status in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making 3 million illegal immigrants eligible for amnesty. He has talked to Spanish-speaking audiences at churches and civic groups, and taken part in workshops for the past several years to prepare immigrants for the next opportunity for legal status.
“It’s a great first step — this is the biggest thing to happen in the immigration sphere in the last 28 years,” he said. “But this is just a Band-Aid for a couple of years to do something permanent and something rational to address the issue.”
Dan Fazio, director of the Washington Farm Labor Association, said Obama’s decision was not well thought-out, though the president appeared sincere.
The action will make it less likely that Congress will approve a more workable program for allowing guest farm workers into the country, Fazio said.
“We are happy that more people can now share the American dream, but disappointed with the presidential fiat that enabled them to jump the line — especially when there are legal ways to accomplish the same thing,” Fazio said.
“As another example, there is currently a law which would enable an undocumented person to leave the country and immediately return with a work visa. The administration has discretion in making the program available and has chosen not to make it available to farm workers,” he said.
A key provision of the president’s plan protects parents who are in the country illegally but whose children are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, regardless of age, according to The Associated Press. To be eligible, the parents need to have lived in the U.S. for five years.
Pasco native Stephanie Fuentes, 22, said her mother would be among those who could be helped by Obama’s actions. She still is concerned about the more than 50 percent of illegal immigrants who will not have a chance to become legal.
“I think 5 million is a lot, but there are families that are still going to be separated,” said Fuentes, an Eastern Washington University senior. “It would be great if my mom can be documented and stay here outside of the shadows, but there’s still others.”
The decision was a disappointment to Congressman-elect Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, because immigration reform was a top priority, he said in a statement released Friday.
“I've been a legislator before, and I know the way you work through difficult problems to get to a solution is through mutual trust and respect,” Newhouse said. “By going around Congress to take probably illegal action on one small part of the overall immigration mess, he's making it very difficult to work on the real reform of the entire immigration system that we so desperately need.
“This action will likely inflame public opinion and poisons his relationship with Congress to the point where it will be very difficult to make progress on this issue going forward,” Newhouse said. “I hope the president takes action to reverse the damage he has done before he hurts the cause of immigration reform any further.”
The man Newhouse was elected this month to replace, 20-year Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, ripped Obama in a brief statement Thursday night.
“I am disappointed that President Obama tonight has once again chosen to show his complete disrespect for the Constitution by acting in a unilateral manner,” Hastings said.
Fuentes, who was born a U.S citizen, was one of 12 people arrested last year at a protest outside the home office of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane. She remains worried about the future of immigration reform with Republicans controlling the House and Senate next year.
“It’s pretty sad the president had to go all the way to an executive order to get anything done,” she said.