Obama must bring immigration to the forefront in second term

In Opinion

In Obama’s recent inauguration speech, the president emphasized once again a desire to improve immigration policies in this country.

It is surprising the president is shedding so much light on the subject given that immigration was mentioned so few times during the debates in the election process. As a Latina voter, I would have liked to see much more attention being brought to the issue of immigration sooner.

Nonetheless, the desire to move forward on immigration reform is commendable, even if it is just to maintain the support of the Latino community.

Still, one has to ask, do these new policy changes offer substantially different alternatives from what illegal immigrants have had to choose from before? Will they make immigrants to the United States, those who had been too afraid before, comfortable enough to come forward and want to apply for legal residency?

According to the Los Angeles Times, Obama’s new reform would allow those who have been living in the U.S. illegally and who have U.S. citizens as family members to apply for a visa without leaving the country, a practice that could help keep families together. If approved, there would be a “brief” visit back to the person’s native country in order to pick up said visa.

The time families would spend apart would only equal about a week, as opposed to the excruciating wait times many applicants have endured.

Still, according to the LA Times, the immigration agency doesn’t plan on hiring more staff to its office and it already receives an overwhelming amount of applications per year. Once the new reform is passed, given that the immigration agency considers each application individually and considers the “totality of the applicant’s circumstances,” there could be just as few applicants considered for amnesty into the country.

While the intention for betterment is there, the effect of these delegations could be the same as the systems currently in place: A surplus of applications in an already crowded office cannot necessarily guarantee prompt responses, and could leave applicants in an equally lengthy process.

The immigration agency also does not review applications unless the applicants can express an “extreme hardship” being faced in their need to become American citizens. But what exactly defines an “extreme hardship?” The guidelines for deciding are so vague, I predict problems arising from applicants whose applications fall into the cracks of this new system with unclear and confusing regulations for being part of this country.

Besides, why must it be a requirement that a person who applies for a visa be going through an “extreme hardship” if the person is willing and able to work in some of the most bottom-of-the-barrel jobs available? Surely if they haven’t faced “extreme hardship” yet, they soon will.

A noteworthy plus in the new reform is that those who have been denied a visa in the past can re-apply for a new visa with this new reform (though those who have been deported, cannot).

However positive, aspects of the reform need to be ironed out before these proposals can be seen as a win for immigrants. Despite this, it is good to see the administration putting a greater emphasis on the issue, as it affects so many living in the United States; currently 11 million undocumented residents occupy our borders.

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