California Immigrant Advocates Applaud Obama Plan

Protesters marched to the Immigration Court to speak out against the deportation of minors and families in September. (James Tensuan/KQED)

California immigrant advocates are applauding President Obama's pledge to use executive action to shield up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. And they’re pushing him to be bold.

"We, as California advocates, continue to urge the president to move on executive action and end unjust deportations that have caused the separation of families, as quickly as possible," said Reshma Shamasunder, director of the California Immigrant Policy Center. “Given the stalling we've seen in Congress for so many years, we hope he is bold in his action and covers as many people as possible.”

The president has vowed action by the end of the year, and leaks from the administration suggest he could unveil a plan by the end of next week or soon after that. Obama first promised to act this summer when it became clear that the House would not pass a Senate immigration overhaul bill. He then held off until after the midterm elections, in deference to Democrats in close House and Senate races who feared that an executive move on immigration could hurt them with middle-of-the road voters.

Meanwhile, an election-eve poll found that Latino voters prefer Democrats but are growing frustrated with them over a lack of action on immigration. Latinos overwhelmingly support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Though the administration has not yet revealed details of the plan, Republicans in Congress are voicing fierce opposition.

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“We’re going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday. “We are looking at all options that are on the table. Our goal is to stop the president from doing this.”

Obama does not have the power to unilaterally grant permanent legal status to unauthorized immigrants. Instead, he is proposing administrative action that could protect perhaps several million undocumented immigrants from deportation and grant work permits to many of them, according to news reports. One group that could get relief are the parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Recent research by the Pew Hispanic Center found that of the estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 4 million live with U.S.-born children. The center also reported that immigrants without legal status are increasingly putting down roots here: On average, unauthorized immigrant adults have lived in this country for almost 13 years.

California is home to about 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, many of them in “mixed status” families that include U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

Given California’s large immigrant population -- one in four residents in the state was born abroad and almost half of California children have an immigrant parent, according to the California Immigrant Policy Center -- it’s no surprise that Californians support immigration reform, said Shamasunder.

“We know that amongst Latino voters and many other voters, there was huge disappointment in President Obama not moving forward with executive action over the summer,” she said. “There really is no more time to delay. He must act now and it seems to me that the president understands this and he’s going to honor his word.”

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