President Obama’s upcoming executive order, which is expected to remove the threat of deportation from some five million undocumented, including qualified parents of U.S. citizen children, is being received cautiously by potential Irish beneficiaries who are afraid of building up hopes only to have them dashed as has happened multiple times in the past.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to reveal the timeline for Obama’s plan to take action on immigration which was leaked to the media last week, nor would he discuss particular details.
But it’s been widely reported that under Obama’s proposal undocumented parents of U.S. citizens who have been in the U.S. for at least five years would not be subject to deportation and could also apply for temporary work permits.
The executive order would not confer legal status in any way, nor would it allow for foreign travel, and Obama will have to shepherd it through myriad political challenges it will face from already furious members of the Republican Party.
An unknown number of Irish undocumented could benefit from the order, but until particulars are revealed no one the Irish Voice spoke to both on and off the record is expressing great optimism – with many mindful that reform has been close before, only to eventually collapse.
“We’ve been there, done that and nothing is certain, so what’s the point of getting excited?” one undocumented mother from Co. Limerick with two U.S. children told the Irish Voice.
Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Center in Yonkers, says she hasn’t been fielding calls from anxious undocumented wondering if they will benefit.
“If it does transpire that Obama’s executive order to provide work authorization to qualifying undocumented emigrants becomes a reality, it will be wonderful news for those who will be eligible based on the criteria,” she told the Irish Voice.
“People will finally be able to use their skills and work in a field appropriate to their education. People who have been living in the shadows all along can now strive to be productive and entrepreneurial, and reach their full potential to the benefit of this country.”
For “M,” a native of Belfast who has been in New York for 14 years, and father to three U.S. children with his wife who is also undocumented, the chance to broaden his employment opportunities thanks to the executive officer is enticing, as is the loss of fear over being deported.
“It’s good news for sure if it happens,” he told the Irish Voice. “So many Irish people come here and they work as bartenders or waitresses and they have college degrees. So for those who qualify under the executive order they’ll have the chance to do something else perhaps.”
M has kept abreast of immigration developments for years, and on more than one occasion thought the chance to become legal and return home to see his parents and family in Belfast was close at hand.
“I remember Kennedy/McCain,” he said of a past bipartisan bill that couldn’t make it into law after coming close.
What’s troublesome to M and others the Irish Voice spoke to is the uncertainty over the long-term prospects of Obama’s executive order, which could possibly be overturned by a subsequent administration.
“That would be the worst, to have a little taste of freedom and then have it taken away. That’s what really bothers me, that the order may not be stable. If that ever happened, that it was taken away, I’d rather not have the order at all,” M said.
“It would be tremendous if Obama had bipartisan support, but that’s not happening. We would all feel much better about things if Republicans and Democrats could get together to address the situation.”
Living as an undocumented resident is more difficult with the arrival of children, M says, so if the order could lead to things like driver’s licenses it would be a great help.
“When you’re on your own it’s one thing, but when you’ve got a family it’s very tough living like we do,” he says.
“It would be great to have a license, get a car and do things that regular people do.”
M has a Social Security number from a past J-1 visa and has made a point to pay income tax every year.
“I have had no problem with that at all,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do. If you want to be part of this country then you have to pay taxes. And we want to be a part of this country.”
M’s father in Belfast watches the news and always takes note when U.S. immigration is mentioned. The Republican gains in the Senate weren’t a cause for celebration for M’s father, who would love to see his son travel home.
Though travel won’t be part of Obama’s executive order, M will take what he can get at this stage.
“I’m just waiting and wondering. It’s hard to know with all the media coverage. Will it be good? I hope so. We need some good news.”