By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
One day after President Barack Obama announced an executive action intended to temporarily shelter up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, Catholic Charities of Dallas President and CEO Arne Nelson applauded the move, saying it will bring much-needed relief to thousands of undocumented immigrants living in North Texas.
“While we study this proposal in greater detail, we are grateful for this move towards a society in which authentic human dignity is recognized, families are strengthened and all, regardless of race, creed or background are welcomed as full members of our community,” Nelson said during a news conference on Nov. 21 at Catholic Charities of Dallas. “The action is a step towards a more compassionate and just immigration system that respects the inherent dignity of immigrants as fellow daughters and sons of God.”
Catholic Charities of Dallas officials estimated that perhaps as many as 1 million undocumented immigrants living in Texas could be eligible for the relief. As many as 185,750 of those people may be in North Texas. From that group, Catholic Charities said they expect 15 percent, or approximately 27,000 people, will actually go through the process and benefit from the president’s executive order.
During a televised address to the nation on Nov. 20, President Obama said his executive action would grant temporary deportation relief to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have lived in the United States for at least five years, can pass a criminal background check, and pay taxes. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 3.71 million people will be eligible for this relief.
In addition, the action would expand two aspects of the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The cutoff age for eligible applicants, now currently at 31, will be eliminated. The order will also expand U.S. residency requirements from 2007 to 2010. In addition, applicants will be eligible for work permits. An additional 1.5 million people will now be eligible for the program.
“If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” Obama said. “If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.”
Vanna Slaughter, who heads Immigration and Legal Services for Catholic Charities of Dallas, said while immigration officials remain anxious to see comprehensive immigration reform, the president’s executive action is “extraordinarily welcome.”
“It’s very apparent to me when I see the expansive nature of what the president announced that he’s had people truly focused with the problems of the current immigration system in a very targeted and precise way,” Slaughter said. “This package of provisions is going to address those flaws and those obstacles that were in the immigration system that were frustrating so many of us and separating families.”
The president said he prefers immigration reform to occur through the legislative process and expressed particular frustration with House Republican leaders who have not brought his immigration bill to a vote.
In June 2013, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act was introduced to the Senate and passed by a vote of 68-32. It has since languished in the Republican-controlled House.
Congressional Republicans angrily responded, saying the executive action effectively changes the law, and questioned its legality. On Nov. 21, the GOP announced it was suing the Obama administration over the order.
“I wish the president wouldn’t do this,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, during a speech on the Senate floor ahead of the president’s announcement. “It won’t work. It’s unconstitutional. It purports to exercise a power he himself said he does not have, but he seems determined to do it nonetheless.”