Local immigrant-rights groups to respond to Obama policy change

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Immigrant-rights groups in San Diego will respond  Friday to President Barack Obama’s plans to take executive action on immigration to protect millions of people living in the country illegally from deportation.

Obama delivered a nationwide address on the topic Thursday and plans to rally support for his order this morning at an event in Las Vegas.

Alliance San Diego and the North County Immigration Task Force plan to share their reactions to the president’s plans at separate news conferences today.

Itzel Guillen, an Alliance San Diego member who entered the U.S. illegally with her family 14 years ago, said that Obama’s action is a step in the right direction.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a permanent fix, it’s a temporary fix, and we’re still striving for comprehensive immigration reform,” said Guillen, a San Diego State University student.

Rob Luton of the San Diego Secure Border Coalition said Obama is sending the wrong message to lawbreakers, who can now look forward to being absolved at some point.

“On the merits of his decision, I think it’s terribly flawed,” Luton said, adding that the president overstepped his authority.

The White House says Obama’s order will shield roughly 5 million immigrants from deportation and prompt border authorities to target “felons, not families.”

The order will allow immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to request relief from deportation and authorization to work for three years. To qualify, they must have been in the country for more than five years, pass a criminal background check, pay fees and show that their child was born prior to the issuance of the executive order. Once qualified, they will also have to pay taxes.

The executive order will also expand on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, by removing the upper age limit of 30. The DACA program, which applies to Guillen, will also be amended to offer three years of protection from deportation, up from the previous two years.

Obama’s order shifts additional resources to the border and establishes enforcement priorities designed to “increase the chances that anyone attempting to cross the border illegally will be caught and sent back.” It also calls for changes to address the backlog of pending immigration court cases.

The order stresses that deportation actions will focus on people “suspected of terrorism, violent criminals, gang members and recent border crossers,” according to the White House.

“Today brings big news to millions of hardworking — and otherwise law-abiding — immigrants in our communities who will be more easily come out of the shadows to work, pay taxes and raise families without fear of deportation,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. “I am proud our president is taking this very crucial first step, but this doesn’t relieve the Republicans in Congress from their responsibility to act in the long term.”

Gonzalez, who represents the border area in the lower chamber of the Legislature, also pushed for enactment of comprehensive reform of the immigration system.

On Twitter, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said, “This is a major step forward. I applaud President (Obama) for recognizing how vital immigrants are to (California’s) economy, culture, society.”

In a video posted on the White House Facebook page Wednesday, Obama says he is taking action because Congress “has allowed the problem to fester for far too long.”

Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, who immigrated legally from Lebanon in 1990, said that the plan is “offensive” to immigrants “who came the legal way.” He said his brother had to wait in Lebanon for 20 years before immigrating here.

“These guys, who broke the law are getting in the front of the line, and I think that’s not right,” Abed said.

Republican leaders in Washington, including Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, have said congressional progress on immigration has stalled due to the GOP’s belief that Obama will fail to enforce whatever laws are enacted.

“It is sad and disappointing that — faced with this challenge — President Obama won’t work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can’t and won’t fix these problems,” Boehner said.

Boehner and other Republicans have vowed to attempt to overturn whatever action the president takes.

Categories: KUSI