Making Yourself Legal Isn’t So Easy

For Jose Antonio Vargas, the executive action Obama took last night was personal:

Of all the questions I get asked as an undocumented immigrant in the United States, there are two—asked in various permutations via email, social media or in person—that chill me to the bone: “Why don’t you just make yourself legal?”

And: “Why don’t you get in the back of the line?”

The questions underscore the depth of misunderstanding about how the immigration process works, and doesn’t work. They imply that, short of self-deportation, there is a process for undocumented people like me to follow, a way to rectify the situation and adjust our status. Just show up at an office, fill out a form, and get in the back of a line. Somewhere. Anywhere.

I’ve gotten asked these questions so many times that I decided to walk viewers through the process—or lack thereof—in a scene in my film “Documented,” where I chronicle a broken and inhumane immigration system that, among other things, has kept my mother and I apart for 21 years. Barring any executive action, I can’t leave the U.S.; there’s no guarantee that I’d be allowed back.

Flavelle also dismantles the Republicans’ moral argument:

[S]ay you’re a Mexican citizen with no special skills, no money for an investor’s visa and no relatives living legally in the U.S. You can’t apply for the green-card lottery, and you have no grounds for asylum. Your only hope to move to the U.S. is to be one of the few thousand unskilled workers who squeak in each year — or to enter illegally. …

Yes, people living here without authorization are breaking the law. Pretending that they had a viable legal alternative just makes it easier to demonize them, by viewing those immigrants as wrongly taking something that might have been theirs had they only followed the rules. The annual green-card figures show that for most of the people affected by Obama’s order, that probably wasn’t the case.

Ruben Navarrette Jr., on the other hand, worries about how the executive action will play out:

Looking ahead, it’s unclear how many of the estimated 4 to 5 million illegal immigrants who might be eligible for relief under the guidelines spelled out by Obama will actually apply for the dispensation. Another unknown is how many from that pool will eventually qualify. In the case of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that served as a model for what the president intends to do with, for instance, the undocumented parents of U.S.-born children, only about a third of those who were eligible were willing to risk going through the process to be awarded deferred action. This includes walking into a Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, turning yourself in, getting fingerprinted, handling over your home address and all your personal information, all in return for the promise not to deport you—at least for now. Expect many of those who are eligible for relief under the new program to say, “Thanks but no thanks” and go on their way.

Meanwhile, the Obama deportation machine will continue to run 24/7 and enforcement might be even more aggressive than it has been up to now in order to overcompensate for what many Americans perceive as a giveaway for illegal immigrants.

Along those lines, Hayley Munguia looks closely at the undocumented immigrants still under threat of deportation:

Obama said Thursday that his plan prioritizes “deporting felons, not families.” And the percentage of deportations that involved undocumented immigrants convicted of a crime has increased significantly from 35 percent in 2007 to 59 percent last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. But those numbers include minor infractions like traffic violations. Since 2003, there have been 433,000 removals of undocumented immigrants convicted exclusively of nonviolent crimes, the MPI has reported.