By Joshua Pechthalt
Last week, President Obama acted decisively in using his executive authority to help bring some security to the millions of undocumented workers living in fear in this country. Unfortunately it took an electoral drubbing to push the President to do something he should have done months ago. The President’s unwillingness to act before the November election was part of an effort to protect Democratic senators in states apparently not sympathetic to immigration reform. Ironically, had the President made this move prior to the election, it might have mobilized a Latino base that had grown increasingly disillusioned with Obama and the Democratic Party and staved off such an overwhelming victory for Republicans.
Nevertheless, the President’s action on immigration allowing up to five million undocumented immigrants to live and work in this country without threat of deportation was a major step towards fixing a broken immigration system, and a long time coming for an administration finishing its sixth year in office and a Congress unwilling to act.
The President did the right thing to protect millions of undocumented immigrants who have been working to make better lives for themselves in the United States. This will keep families together, and is consistent with the history of this country as a sanctuary for immigrants escaping poverty and persecution.
This is not only a victory for immigrants, but also a victory for all workers. Many undocumented immigrants are exploited, victims of wage theft and retaliation. They can now move to be treated fairly and humanely on the job without the threat of deportation.
This is also a victory for education, as students of undocumented parents will have one less threat hanging over them.
However, more needs to be done because millions of people remain in the shadows. We need comprehensive immigration reform that gives people a path to amnesty, citizenship and that demilitarizes the border.
President Obama is almost certain to see a wave of opposition coming from the Republican Party, including renewed calls for impeachment. The immigration rights community, organized labor and progressive forces must act now to mobilize in defense of the President’s executive order while continuing to demand more far reaching and comprehensive immigration reform. There should be a call for a national day of action for marches and rallies across the country to counter the anti-immigration and anti-Obama blather coming from the Republican Party, the far right and their lap dogs at Fox news.
Cesar Chavez said "When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the fields is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding, sheltering and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick."
For the millions of undocumented workers who will benefit from the President’s decision, those basic rights are closer to becoming a reality.