A major human rights group in the United States has described as “laudable but incomplete” President Obama’s executive actions to fix the United States’ “broken immigration system” by halting deportations of certain undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants.
Human Rights Watch noted on Saturday that the president’s decision will protect millions of people from the corrosive threat of removal.
“The plan outlined, while deficient in key respects, will keep eligible families intact and help immigrants resist workplace and other abuses without fear of deportation,” the human rights group said.
“President Obama’s plan to keep nearly 5 million immigrants and their families from being broken apart by deportation is a strike against arbitrary cruelty,” said Antonio Ginatta, U.S. advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “By ordering major reforms to immigration enforcement, Obama is improving public safety and making millions of people less vulnerable to abuse.”
Obama’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions expand eligibility for already-existing “temporary legal status” for migrants who came as children, and offers a similar temporary status for the parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Other aspects of the plan make it easier for families to stay together by offering relief to people who would otherwise be eligible for family visas but for bureaucratic backlogs, Human Rights Watch noted.
The plan also replaces a program known as “Secure Communities”, which the White House recognized undermines the community’s trust in law enforcement.
But Human Rights Watch said other abusive practices against immigrants are “unaddressed and possibly worsened under the plan,” stating that Obama declined to provide protection against deportation to immediate relatives, including parents, of young people with deferred deportation status.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch said the Obama administration had announced that it would defer deportation for certain migrants brought to the United States as children.
The group said that over half a million people have already qualified for temporary relief under this program.
Human Rights Watch said the president’s plan also fails to mandate that Border Patrol or other immigration enforcement officers always consider the need to keep families intact.
Human Rights Watch said it recently documented how significant numbers of parents of U.S. citizen children — 100,000 in the years 2011 and 2012 — are “apprehended, summarily deported and criminalized at the border.
“Though many of these parents might have qualified for deferred deportation were they still in the U.S., Obama’s plan does not provide relief to them if they are caught trying to re-enter the country to rejoin their families,” it said.
Ginatta said the “mass deportation policies of recent years have left hundreds of thousands of families in limbo with one or more members forcibly separated.
“Instructing the Border Patrol to roll back accelerated deportations at the border for people with deep ties in the United States would go a long way toward bringing some of these families together again,” he said.
Additionally, Ginatta said there were no changes to the administration’s “problematic policies” allowing the summary deportation of asylum seekers arriving at the border without sufficient assessment of whether they are being sent back to serious risk of harm, and that promote the detention of recently arrived families.
He said the president also did not reduce damaging federal prosecutions for illegal entry, a misdemeanor, and re-entry, a felony.
Human Rights Watch said criminal prosecutions for entering or re-entering the U.S. illegally are the “most common prosecutions in the U.S., and sweep up thousands of people with deep ties in the country.
“Those convicted can become priorities for deportation because of their immigration status alone,” it said.
“So long as the administration uses rapid-fire deportation procedures, prosecutes and incarcerates those already deportable, and detains entire families, hundreds of thousands of people will still suffer family separation and unfair treatment,” Ginatta said.
“Obama’s plan is a temporary reprieve for millions and a first step in the right direction, but the need for a more lasting and comprehensive solution remains,” he added.
Meantime, Caribbean legislators in the United States have welcomed the president’s plan, announced on Thursday in a 15-minute address from the East Room of the White House.
Obama said his administration plans to adopt measures to “deal responsibly” with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in the U.S.
But he said that even as America is a nation of immigrants, it is also a nation of laws, stating that undocumented workers who break the immigration laws must be held accountable, especially those who may be dangerous.
On Friday, Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, and Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries held a press conference in Downtown Brooklyn with other elected officials and organizations that work on behalf of immigrants in the Caribbean community in celebrating the president’s executive order.
Clarke, who represents the Ninth Congressional District in Brooklyn, and Jeffries are co-chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus Immigration Reform Task Force.
Elected officials in attendance included Jamaican-born New York State Assemblyman N. Nick Perry; Haitian American Assemblywoman-Elect Rodneyse Bichotte; Haitian-born New York City Council Member Dr. Mathieu Eugene; and African Americans Assemblyman Walter Mosley.
., New York State Senator Kevin Parker, Assemblywoman Latrice Walker and Assemblywoman-Elect Jo Anne Simon.
“I commend the president for taking this bold and necessary step to protect the lifeblood of America: new Americans, people willing to take great risks and a leap of faith to come and make a life for themselves and their families here in the United States,” Bichotte told Caribbean Life afterwards.
Grenadian-American New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams also commended the president’s executive action.
“As a proud first generation American of Caribbean decent, I commend our country’s Administration for developing this well thought out, fair initiative, which, in addition to protecting immigrants already here, will help promote safe and legal immigration to the United States,” said Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants who represents the 45th Assembly District in Brooklyn, told Caribbean Life.
“These changes will affect thousands of constituents in my district and multitudes of people across the city, as they will soon be able to enjoy many of the rights and liberties that come with being a New Yorker,” added Williams, Deputy Leader of New York City Council and Chair of the Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee.
But Obama said that immigrants must “play by the rules,” stating that “those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded,” offering what he described as a “deal.”
“If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation,” the US president said.
“You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” he added, hastening to point out that “the deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently.
“It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that,” he continued. “All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.”
Obama made clear that his “deal” is not an amnesty, as suggested by Republican critics.
He said the actions he’s taking are not only lawful: “They’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century.
“And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer,” he said. “Pass a bill.”