Jose Gaspar: The devil is in the details of new immigration policy

Raul Trujillo of Lamont got some very unexpected good news the other day. He and thousands of other young undocumented immigrants living in Kern County will no longer have to live in fear of being deported because their parents brought them to this country illegally when they were children.

President Barack Obama issued this historic though some say long overdue immigration policy change June 15 and it is to be effective immediately.

"I was really happy, it made my day," 18-year-old Raul Trujillo said upon hearing the news. Trujillo just graduated from Arvin High School this year and wants to go to college. He was 6 years old when brought here by his parents from Mexico in pursuit of making a better life.

But as they say, the devil is in the details. Questions and confusion abound right now about how this new policy will be implemented. Homeland Security calls the policy change "deferred action," meaning that for two years, qualifying young undocumented immigrants will be given a reprieve from federal prosecution. Those who demonstrate they meet the criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for a work permit. Here are the guidelines issued by a memorandum by Homeland Security to be determined on a case-by-case basis:

1. Must have come to the United States under age 16;

2. Have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding the date of this memorandum (June 15, 2012) and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;

3. Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;

4. Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;

5. Are not above the age of 30.

Important to note, however, is that the policy change does NOT provide permanent lawful status or start a pathway to citizenship. In essence, it's a temporary Band-Aid while a reluctant Congress refuses to come up with a serious comprehensive immigration reform plan.

One man intimately familiar with the plight of local undocumented young people put in this position through no fault of their own is Dr. Jim Young, chancellor emeritus of the Kern Community College District.

"This is a good first step," Young said. "This will help them at least find work and save for college."

As mentioned, this important policy change by President Barack Obama is long overdue. The move is hardly a coincidence; it is ripe with election year politics as he and Republican challenger Mitt Romney heighten their efforts to try and win the all-important Hispanic vote in the November presidential election.

The Obama administration has come under fire by numerous Hispanic groups for already deporting more undocumented immigrants than did the George W. Bush administration. Many of those deported were young people, or working mothers and fathers who posed no significant threat to the safety of this country, but rather got caught up in the administration's overzealous prosecution of those who pose a serious a danger to national security and are a risk to the public.

It also puts Republican Mitt Romney in a very uncomfortable political position. Romney addressed a group of Latino elected officials in Florida last week and was doing political double speak.

"Some people wonder if I will let stand the president's executive order," Romney told the crowd. "The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure," said Romney.

But Romney refused to say whether he would rescind that policy if elected president. He, too, wants to capture the Hispanic vote and yet not alienate his conservative base. So he continues to waffle.

Other Republicans speak in similar vague terms. This statement is from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield: "The president's unilateral decision undermines the rule of law on which our nation is based and will do nothing to fix our immigration system. Any action to change our immigration laws should originate in Congress and must first ensure our borders are secure, and be free of election year politics."

Seems like the only thing everyone agrees on is that for years, Congress has failed to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform plan. But let's be honest: There's no chance of comprehensive immigration reform in the current political environment.

Homeland Security estimates the president's new directive will impact about 800,00 young people nationwide, and hopefully the process to come out of the shadows will soon get underway.

"It's a new hope," Trujillo said.


This article ran in the Sunday edition of The Bakersfield Californian. It was reposted with permission.