Humanitarian Relief through Executive Action


Refugee Status for Certain Central American Children – the Tip of Executive Action

Last Friday at Inter-American Development Bank Conference on Investing in Central America, Vice-President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. government will initiate a program in December which will grant refugee status to individuals in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who are under 21 years of age and whose parents legally reside in the U.S. According to U.S. officials, children granted refugee status under this program will be granted work authorization upon arriving in the U.S. They will also have the ability to apply to become permanent residents a year after their entry and for naturalization five years after. Children who are denied refugee status under this program may be eligible for “parole” into the country if they can demonstrate they are still in danger.

This program should help provide humanitarian relief to children who are living in countries that are ravaged by rampant gang violence and devastated by poverty. Additionally, because this program will not apply to children who have already entered the United States unlawfully, it should help deter the large influx of unaccompanied minors taking the long and perilous journey to the U.S. border seeking to escape dire situations and reunite with their parents.

This refugee program should be just one part of the series of executive actions on immigration President Barack Obama will hopefully announce tonight in a prime-time TV speech. President Obama appears poised to unveil a program that will grant millions of undocumented immigrants deferred action status and protect them from deportation.

Executive action on immigration has become a polarizing topic that has created a contentious debate over the President’s authority to act unilaterally on immigration issues. While some critics argue that the President is acting without precedent, American history shows that he has the authority to act on immigration issues without Congress. In the past seventy years, several Presidents, including Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, have used their executive power to permit immigration or prevent deportation without Congressional approval. Since the 1970s, Presidents have used their broad executive power over 20 times to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Though the President should be cautious when exercising this broad executive power, it is at times a necessary tactic to address humanitarian crises that Congress is too slow to act upon through legislation. Oftentimes, these executive actions have been codified by Congress years later.

Congress has had the opportunity to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but has failed to pass even piece-meal legislation. President Obama has also waited too long to act on his own authority, likely fearful of a potential public backlash after the “immigration crisis” generated massive, often negative, media attention. The time has come to fix our broken immigration system. Hopefully, the executive action President Obama takes will push a stagnant Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which is long overdue. In the meantime, President Obama can provide humanitarian relief to some of the most vulnerable through executive action.

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