Give Me Your Weak, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses

The 15th annual Latin Grammy awards were presented on November 22, 2014 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Enrique Iglesias ended his decade-long steak of not winning a Latin Grammy by taking three home that night, including one for Song of the Year for his song “Bailando”. Conscious rap group Calle 13 also won big that night, taking home an astounding 21 awards that night. The biggest winners of the award show, however, were announced before it even began.

President Obama’s message at the 2014 Latin Grammys.

Prior to the show, President Obama addressed the nation live, including audience members and viewers of the awards show back home. During his prime time announcement, the president laid out his groundwork for the long-awaited and long-needed immigration reform. He announced he will pass executive orders that protect nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants in this country. While the executive order does not grant them citizenship or residency, it does protect many from deportation as well as allow them to apply for a work permit.

Political pundits and politicians on the right immediately decried this move by Obama as a gross overreach of his presidential powers. They claim his use of executive action is unconstitutional and is basically his way of circumventing the Republican takeover of both houses of Congress to get what he wants. Prior to Obama’s announcement, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said “The president had said before that he’s not king, and he’s not an emperor, but he’s sure acting like one. And he’s dong it at a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.”

President Obama gave the Republicans a simple ultimatum: pass a bill. The Senate has done their part with the passage of a bill that would treat the 11 million or so undocumented immigrant in this country with compassion as well as add billions of dollars to our economy. That was 16 months ago. Since that time, Speaker Boehner has prevented the bill to even go up for a vote in the House of Representatives, thus indefinitely stalling any forward progression on the comprehensive immigration reform this country is desperately in need of. Coupled with the fact that Republicans won both the House and Senate this past midterm election, it would appear as if immigration reform is all but dead.

By making this historic announcement, President Obama gave the dying immigration reform a fighting chance. The downside of the use of an executive order is that whoever is president in 2016 can simply overturn it and undo all of President Obama’s work. Not only that, but many immigrants’ rights advocates fear that Obama’s executive action doesn’t do enough. While they  agree that it is a step in the right direction, they recognize that millions of immigrants are still in legal limbo. The immigrants affected by President Obama’s program will not entirely become citizens or residents of this country, but aren’t illegally here either.

President Obama’s plan allows immigrant parents of permanent residents or citizens who have also been in this country for longer than five years to stay in this country without the threat of being deported. Families no longer have to fear that they’ll be ripped apart by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). He also plans on expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program he implemented in 2012 to also cover immigrants over 30 years old as well as more recent arrivals. The proposed plan does not apply to parents of DACA-status children or immigrants with felonies. Obama’s plan also adds funds and resources to strengthen the US-Mexico border.

Protesters in front of the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

While Obama’s program is going to push the boundaries of presidential power, many immigration law experts believe opponents will have a hard time trying to render it illegal. In the landmark 2012 case Arizona v. the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the executive branch of government has “broad discretion” when it comes to matters of setting deportation policies. This isn’t the first time a president has taken immigration action into their own hands. In the 1960s, President Kennedy took similar measures to protect Cuban exiles. President H.W. Bush built on Reagan’s work in order to protect an estimated 1.6 million children and spouses of immigrants who were granted amnesty in 1986.

As an immigrant to this great country of ours, I applaud President Obama’s monumental move. Too long has the immigration system of the United States been broken. Not only is it tearing families apart, but it is also damaging the economy and ingenuity of this country. An overwhelming majority of the immigrants that come into the United States are honest, hardworking people trying to improve their own socioeconomic status as well as provide their children with lives and opportunities greater than their own.

Ever since the inception of this country, immigrants have played a vital role in the rise of the United States as a global superpower. Be it the Chinese that toiled creating the railways that helped fuel American westward expansion, or the Italians that established themselves as prominent figures in cities such as New York or Chicago, immigrants have long played a history in American history. Nowadays, Latino and Hispanic immigrants harvest and package your vegetables and fruits. Immigrants probably work and live in your community. Their children probably go to school with yours. Hell, they might even be best friends. The point is, immigrants are hardworking, honest people trying to make a living and provide their children with a shot at the American Dream. We’re not all that different than you would expect us to be. Seeing as how the United States played a huge role in the economic and social destabilization of many Central and South American countries, it’s a bit hypocritical to have such anti-immigrant sentiment.

Hispanic migrants working cultivating fields.

Whenever I hear anti-immigrant rhetoric by either politicians or just normal people, I can’t help but sense racial and xenophobic undertones in their arguments. They often make blanket statements, like that all immigrants are gang or cartel members, or criminals. Hispanic immigrants make up about 7% of the American incarcerated population. Many of them are them are in prison for either immigration- or drug-related reasons, which again, disproportionately affects men of color more so than white men. There’s also the old adage that undocumented immigrants leech off the welfare system. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however. In fact, most social welfare programs such as food stamps, cash welfare assistance, Medicaid, and even the new healthcare law bar undocumented immigrants from even applying, let alone receive benefits.

Money may be one of the true reasons Republicans don’t want to pass a comprehensive immigration. Either they themselves or the lobbyists that support them benefit greatly from exploiting the cheap labor provided by immigrants. It is beneficial to keep them undocumented because that way, they don’t have to pay them competitive wage, or provide them with healthcare or any other benefits. But more importantly, by keeping immigrants undocumented, they keep them from being able to vote. Without the ability to vote, we have no one to represent our interests or address our concerns.

Years and years of anti-immigrant sentiment fostered by Republican politicians have badly cost them at the polls. While their hard line stances might have won them the support of their more conservative constituents, they alienated Latinos and Hispanics in the process. This proved to be hurtful to the Republicans in both the 2008 and 2012, where the Latino voter block overwhelmingly voted for President Obama. Despite that 54% of Hispanics and Latinos self-identify with conservative ideologies, only 18% of them are registered as Republicans.

If Republicans continue stalling with comprehensive immigration reform, they will only continue to lose even more and more support of voters. This is because the Latino population is poised to grow to 78 million (21.8% of the US population) by 2030 and 111 million (27.8% of the US population) by 2050.

Besides simple human decency, providing a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in this nation also has huge economic advantages we can’t possibly ignore. One of the main complaints by those who oppose immigration reform is that we don’t pay taxes. Taxes paid by legalized immigrants will bring mass amounts of federal revenue, so much so that the Congressional Bill will reduce the deficit by over $850 billion dollars from 2014 and 2033. Not only that, but since the majority of immigrants are young, they will add nearly $300 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund. You can read more of the potential economic benefits here.

According to a 2008 study, “immigrants are among California’s most productive entrepreneurs”. In Silicon Valley alone, immigrant owners of companies have created hundreds of thousands of jobs and have also made billions of dollars in sales. With its dependence of foreign-born engineers, programmers, and entrepreneurs, Silicon Valley lauded President Obama’s announcement. However, many tech giants are advocating for much more than just an extended permission to stay. They want to speed up the process to obtain permanent residency as well as provide more Visas to highly-skilled tech workers. But President Obama’s executive action can only do so much; the action that Silicon Valley wants to see take place requires congressional action. Considering the Republicans hold both the House and the Senate, there’s an equal chance of the Oakland Raiders going to Super Bowl XLIX.


Quick Facts On Immigration

  • All immigrants (illegal or not) pay some form of taxes, be it sales tax or property tax on their rent.
  • Immigrants who use stolen or forged documents to work still get their paychecks docked for Social Security, something they won’t be able to claim. It is estimated that the Social Security Administration’s “suspense file” (taxes that cannot be matched to workers’ names and Social Security numbers) grew $20 billion from 1990 to 1998.
  • Deporting all undocumented immigrants in the United States would not only be a cruel, heartless act, but it would also be a logistical nightmare that would cost tons of money.
  • In California alone, immigrants contribute $30 billion in federal taxes, $5.2 billion in state income taxes, and $4.6 billion in sales taxes each year.
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5 thoughts on “Give Me Your Weak, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses

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