On Thursday night, US President Barack Obama announced his new immigration policy. The decision has created an echo of controversy in the short time span since, especially from the Republican Party. The plan, which includes the decision to suspend the deportation of some unauthorised migrants, will protect millions of people from the threat of removal. It will keep many families unbroken and allow immigrants to oppose workplace and other abuses without the fear of removal. In the light of the Republican uproar it is questionable, however, whether the policy will survive.

There are thought to be over 11 million illegal immigrants in the US. Obama’s new directive will protect around five million from the threat of deportation, and permit many to work legally. By far the most extensive measure of the plan is the ‘deferred action’ program: it will allow the parents of US citizens or permanent legal residents reprieve from deportation for three years if they have been in the country for over five years, pass a criminal background check, pay taxes and submit biometric data. According to the Migration Policy Institute, some 3.7 million people are thought to be eligible for this scheme. Another big action is the expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum to around 300,000 more who arrived in the country illegally as children. There is no question as to the benefits gained by many in America, who would be able to live without a fear of being forcibly removed and could further their lives by qualifying for work and driving licences.

During an emotional address to the nation on Thursday, the President explained one of his boldest decisions by trying to speak to the hearts of the public. Describing the US as a “nation of immigrants”, he urged America to show compassion to newcomers who entered the country illegally but have worked hard and established roots.  “We were strangers once, too,” he concluded his speech, “and whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.”

It is doubtful whether the idealistic words have tugged at the heartstrings of America. Indeed, the reactions in the political sphere have been extremely polarised. Republicans are far from pleased as they consider the President’s actions to be illegal and unconstitutional, making promises to counteract. This raises the question: will the executive order withstand their attack?

One tool available to Republicans is legislation. Since they have assumed power of the two houses of Congress at the midterm elections, they could potentially put forward their own migration statute. Another possible threat arises from the question of the next presidential contest: when the three year period of relief expires, those who have claimed the relief and submitted their data will have effectively made themselves visible. They could in theory be at risk of deportation again dependent on the outcome of the presidential election.

It remains to be seen how effective and long-lasting the protection provided by the policy will actually be. Unfortunately, it may be the case that America’s migrants feel unsafe in the light of the risks and decide to remain unseen.

Human Rights Law Centre presents the Annual Student Human Rights Conference 2015 – ‘Migration and Human Rights: Perception v Reality’

Saturday 7 March 2015

Migration continues to be a highly debated topic. The 2015 HRLC Annual Student Human Rights Conference aims to consider the perceptions and issues surrounding migration.

The Call for Papers is now available for download from the HRLC website (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/hrlc/events/annualstudentconference/annualstudentconference.aspx) with the deadline for submission of abstracts being Thursday 11 December 2014.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact the Student Conference Committee on [email protected].

Cover image: Massimo Sestini/eyevine