Immigration has been a highly discussed issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. The American Spanish-language television network Telemundo has hosted two presidential debates (one for Republicans and one for Democrats) in this election cycle that focused on the issue.
More specifically, there has been talk about two of President Barack Obama’s executive orders, which the Supreme Court will review this spring: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was passed in 2012, and Deferred Action for Parents of American Citizens (DAPA), which was passed in 2014.
DACA allows immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16 and have lived continuously in the U.S. since 2010 to apply to postpone being deported for a period of three years. DAPA has not yet been implemented due to a court order suspending the program. However, the program would allow non-citizen individuals who have lived in the U.S. since 2010 and had children who were living in the U.S. on Nov. 20, 2014, (the date Obama announced the program) to apply to remain in the U.S.
Qualified individuals under DACA or DAPA must pass a criminal background check to receive the program’s benefits.
Of the estimated 11 million total undocumented immigrants in the U.S., 4.9 million individuals are eligible for the DACA and DAPA programs, according to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are 100,000 undocumented immigrants in Ohio. The American Immigration Council estimates that 10-25,000 of those undocumented immigrants are eligible for these programs.
Keeping families together
Barbara Loach, senior professor of Spanish at Cedarville, has worked with immigrants in Clark County in a variety of settings. Loach said DACA and DAPA are about keeping families together by not deporting children or parents.
“(Obama) wants to keep families together and not send parents back and leave children alone without anybody to take care of them, and he doesn’t want kids to be punished for their parents’ decisions,” she said.
Carl Ruby, former Cedarville vice president for student life and current consultant on the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said DACA is only a temporary solution for undocumented immigrants.
“All it does is delay the deportation of people who were brought here as children, not by their own choice. It doesn’t say that we can’t deport them eventually,” Ruby said. “It just says, ‘We haven’t got this figured out right, so until we do, you can come out of the shadows. You don’t have to live in fear of being deported.’”
But Ruby said immigration reform by executive order was the right thing to do considering the congressional gridlock on immigration reform in 2012.
Restraining DACA and DAPA
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas attorney general at the time, filed a federal injunction in February 2015 that prevented DACA from expanding nationwide. In this instance, an injunction is a court order saying something must not be done. Abbott’s successor Ken Paxton continued the injunction, and 25 other states, including Ohio, joined him. The injunction blocked DACA and prevented DAPA from being implemented nationwide.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments this April and may make a decision in June on whether Obama’s executive orders regarding immigration are constitutional and whether states have the ability to challenge the orders. If overruling the executive orders, the decision may mean millions of individuals will be deported.
Marc Clauson, Cedarville professor of history and law, said he believed Obama overstepped his authority with issuing the executive orders and “therefore usurped the power of Congress.”
Clauson said that while the current immigration policy has problems, the U.S. needs to enforce the laws it has regarding immigration since it is unknown when reform will be able to take place.
Still, Ruby said Obama was not the first president to issue an executive order.
“Many people have issued executive orders,” he said. “Obama has not issued more than anyone else. He’s issued fewer than some.”
Long-run immigration reform
In the long run, Ruby said an immigration reform bill should be bipartisan.
“If only Republicans vote for it or only Democrats vote for it, we’re going to end up with a bill that isn’t beneficial,” he said. “It has to be customized by both parties for it to be a good bill.”
Ruby said border security should be the first priority, but there are better and more efficient ways of border security than building a wall.
As for dealing with immigrant workers already in the U.S., Ruby said he liked a bipartisan Senate bill passed in 2013 that involved immigrants undergoing multiple criminal background checks, having a clean criminal record, paying multiple fines, paying taxes, living and working in the U.S. for at least 13 years as good citizens, learning English, and passing U.S. history and citizenship tests.
“I think that citizenship is something that has to be earned,” Ruby said. “It can’t be given to everyone, but there has to be a way for them to earn it.”
However, Ruby said many immigrants aren’t looking for full citizenship.
“Personally, I would settle for permanent legal status instead of citizenship if that were a compromise that was necessary,” he said. “When I talk to immigrants, very few of them ask me about citizenship. A lot of them want to go back to Mexico. Their fear is being deported and not be(ing) able to get back in(to the U.S.).”
Loach said a guest worker program might be a better solution for accounting for immigrants in the U.S.
“A lot of them coming up here are fleeing oppression for or are coming up from economic reasons, and if they can make enough money to send back home and build a house or get their kids through school, then eventually, they just want to go back home, so they don’t really want citizenship,” she said. “They just want permission to live here and work.”
Loach said developing a comprehensive guest worker program would better address the immigration issue than discussing amnesty and the path to citizenship.
Clauson said he doesn’t believe in the U.S. being either a completely opened- or closed-border country. The solution is somewhere in between.
Like Ruby, Clauson said he believes strongly in border security with thorough background checks. He said he would only approve immigrants to enter the country if authorities could find information on them and their records were clean.
Looking to the Bible
Clauson said the Bible says to welcome immigrants as long as they follow the law. He said parts of the Bible encourage welcoming the stranger and foreigner into the Hebrew commonwealth as long as the individual abides by the commonwealth’s laws.
“That has a direct translation to us today that we have a right as a sovereign nation to determine that those in our country will abide by our laws,” he said, “and it’s implied there that we have a right to screen them first and be sure they’re not a threat to our system of law and justice.”
Ruby said the Old Testament says Christians should love and show justice to immigrants, and the New Testament says to love one’s neighbors.
“That’s not a detailed policy, so there’s room for debate on what type of policy does that,” he said. “But as Christians, whatever we end up doing, we need to not just think about our own needs but the needs of these immigrant families.”
Jen Taggart is a junior journalism major and off-campus news editor for Cedars. She enjoys writing, listening to music and fueling her chocolate addiction.