In an intelligently confrontational address, President Obama declared his frustration with congressional gridlock regarding immigration reform, and his desire to turn ideas into reality in his last years of presidency.
In a 15-minute address from the East Room of the White House, President Obama announced the power of the Oval Office to reshape the nation’s immigration system, and told Americans that deporting millions of immigrants is “not who we are.” He continued on to quote Scripture, stating, “We shall not oppress a stranger for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.”
The president’s directive will help keep up to five million people from deportation and allow many of them to work legally, though the regulation offers no real path to citizenship. President Obama remarked that the action was lawful, despite overwhelming opposition from Congress. Venting his dissatisfaction with lack of support he went on to state: “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: Pass a bill.”
At his address, President Obama countered his discontentment with empathy by expressing posing rhetorical questions in emotional terms. He added “Whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in.”
Mr. Obama also intends to emphasize the division between both parties on the issue of immigration at a campaign rally at a high school in Las Vegas, where Hispanics are proving to be a powerful and rising voting bloc. The visit is part of a White House strategy to convince Americans that his actions are indeed legal and right. Meanwhile, Republicans are swiftly devising ways work against President Obama’s efforts and exercise their new authority. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, a House majority leader, called President Obama’s address a “brazen power grab,” and promised a struggle when the Republicans take control of Congress next year.
Further, the highlight of President Obama’s announcement is the creation of a program for unauthorized immigrants who are the parents of U.S. Citizens. Approximately four million people will be eligible for new legal status, which defers deportations and allows them to seek employment legally. They are required to pass background checks and pay taxes, but they will also receive Social Security cards. Also, an additional one million people will have protection from deportation through other parts of President Obama’s plan.
Mr. Obama’s actions will also end arrests of immigrants for minor offenses, like traffic violations. And, local police will no longer be able to detain immigrants without papers.
As more than five million undocumented immigrants rejoice, the reprieve may be short lived, as the fate of their lives and families depends on how Republicans choose to proceed in their opposition of the president’s new regulation. As a result, the address could set the tone of the 2016 president campaign.
For now, President Obama encourages immigrants to finally “come out of the shadows.”
Afieya Kipp is a freelance writer, editor and artist from the East Coast.