On November 20th, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a much-anticipated set of executive orders that would seek to implement specific acts on immigration. As noted by the head of State, this decision is a temporary solution to what has been his political failure: obtaining an agreement with legislators, particularly with his GOP counterparts, that will readjust the immigration system in his country. Moreover, these measures were announced just weeks after the mid-term elections, where the Democratic Party – Obama’s party – suffered a crushing defeat. This further complicates the dialogue between the President and Congress, so the executive order – even with its legal limitations – has now turned out to be both an action of public policy as well as a political strategy. Having said that, what are the real possibilities for benefiting undocumented migrants? What is the importance for Mexico?
Obama’s proposal would cover three areas. Firstly, the strengthening of law enforcement mechanisms; secondly, more work permits for highly skilled workers; and thirdly, the most controversial of them all, the use of deferred action to stop deportations of those who entered the United States before 2010, and fall into one of the following categories: they are under 16 years old or have a son that is a US citizen or a legal resident. While it has been estimated that these actions could impact approximately 5 million migrants, we must consider that, on one hand, this would leave more than 6 million people without protection and, on the other hand, it still remains to be seen how it will be translated at different levels. First of all, the implementation of these new measures must overcome the myths surrounding the matter: an understandable fear amongst migrants to regularize their situation and “step out of the shadows”, a lack of understanding of such conditions as well as the inherent vices of immigration officers, especially taking into account six intensive years of massive deportations under the Obama administration. There is also the factor of the Republicans’ reaction, that although they did not have a coordinated response, they could still influence the process by blocking funds for key agencies or even shutting down the federal government (something that already occurred last year), challenging the constitutionality of the President’s decision by addressing the Supreme Court, or request the impeachment of Obama. All of the aforementioned does not completely rule out the possibility of an immigration reform driven by the Hispanic group in the party, in order to position itself against an invaluable electorate for the 2018 Presidential elections.
The matter does concern Mexico, despite the inconclusive announcement and the fact that the migration issue has lost some of its importance. President Peña has described the measures as “an act of strict justice” and “the most important steps taken in decades”, which could be an excessive recognition to decisions that lack legal certainty or long term stability, considering they can be revoked by the next President at any time. It should also be said that, despite the words of the Mexican President, historically the PRI has not favored the migration issue and the party is rejected by an important part of the Mexican community within the United States.
In any case, there are two areas that Mexico could learn from the discussion of a comprehensive immigration reform matters: the first one is understanding migration as human capital and, from that perspective, assessing how the flow of skilled and unskilled workers is leveraged. The second aspect is the treatment of migrants in their journey through Mexico. When discussing the immigration policies undertaken by the U.S. we must not forget that the Mexican authorities have lags to meet in respect for human rights for the illegal entry of people into the country.
Ultimately, and as evidenced by decades of inaction, affecting thousands of families, political entanglements, and a production chain linked to the illegal immigration status of millions of individuals, the coexistence of both principles is easier said than done. The weakness and uncertainty of the measures presented by Obama only reaffirm this. It is important to put things in their proper perspective.