The executive order on immigration that President Barack Obama announced Thursday was a significant milestone for attorney Camille Mackler of the New York Immigration Coalition. She watched his televised speech with about 200 activists, immigrants and family members.
“It was just one of those moments, those historical moments, that will stay with you forever," she said. "And we are just excited and happy that so many of our neighbors and friends and family members will be able to come out of the shadows and really become part of our society and be recognized for al their hard work and contributions."
Any child born in the United States automatically becomes a citizen, even if his or her parents are undocumented immigrants. Obama’s order would allow those parents to defer deportation and work legally if they register with the government, pay all unpaid taxes plus a fine and pass a criminal background check.
But activist Betsy Plum says this is not enough. She says it would not protect undocumented farmworkers or the parents of children who entered the United States illegally, but whose deportation is being deferred under the so-called DACA program.
“So the families of DACA residents will still continue, if they do not also have U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident children, to face the risk of deportation and being separated from their families,” Plum said.
Camille Mackler adds that a threatened refusal by Republican congressional leaders to fund the initiative or otherwise cooperate will backfire politically.
“They are going to position themselves as the party that ultimately is going against history," she said. "They are going to galvanize these emerging and growing immigrant communities and minorities, which are frankly no longer minorities. They are going to galvanize them to vote for the candidate that will protect their families and that values their contributions."
Call for comprehensive plan
Mackler says that for her and other activists, the fight continues.
“This is not the end of the road, because as the president said, the only real way to fix our broken system is for Congress to work together — both sides of the aisle — and pass a comprehensive immigration reform package, like the way the Senate did last year,” she said.
Obama’s order is expected to affect between 4 million and 5 million immigrants directly, nearly half the estimated number of undocumented immigrants nationwide.