My grandfather Ambrose Finnegan always told me, “Never forget where you came from, Joey.”
He wasn’t merely reminding me that I’m from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was telling me not to forget the journey of my family, and the dreams that inspired them to take on the perilous voyage from Ireland to these shores in the 1840s and 1850s.
The history of the journey of this country has always been the promise that anything is possible. That's what attracted wave after wave of immigrants for centuries. And every generation of immigrants has infused this country with new blood, new ideas, a new determination, a new certainty that we will continue to be the land of possibilities.
But right now, our system is broken, and it needs to be fixed. It needs to continue to hold out the promise of possibilities. There are 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows. They hail from across the globe, including an estimated 50,000 from Ireland.
They want what we all want: a decent life for our children, the chance to contribute to a free society, the chance to put down roots and help build the next great American century.
It is long past time to bring these families out of the shadows, to eliminate the daily fear of separation and restore opportunity - and accountability – to millions of people living in our midst.
Over 500 days ago, the United States Senate passed legislation with bipartisan support to improve border security, streamline the immigration process, and establish a firm but fair path to citizenship. It would be an absolute game-changer for our economy, adding $1.4 trillion to our economy and reducing the deficit by nearly $850 billion over 20 years, and extending the solvency of Social Security by another two years.
Unfortunately, House Republican leadership has refused to allow a fair vote on this legislation, despite support on both sides of the aisle.
That left President Obama with a choice – sit by as families are torn apart and our economic horizons are diminished, or take action within the power granted his office by the United States Constitution.
As the President announced on Thursday, he has chosen action. Following in the tradition of every Republican and Democratic President over the past 5 decades, President Obama announced that he is using his executive authority to address the nation’s broken immigration system.
The actions President Obama announced on Thursday will crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize the deportation of felons instead of families, and streamline our legal immigration system to boost our economy and promote naturalization.
The President’s action will also provide an opportunity for millions of undocumented individuals who have been in this country for at least five years to come out of the shadows.
This opportunity is not available to everyone. It is for DREAMers who were brought to this country as children. And it is for the parents of children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
These parents will have the opportunity to request work authorization and temporary relief from deportation if they come forward and pay their taxes, submit biometric data, pass background checks, pay fees, and show that their child was born on or before the date of the President’s announcement.
The President’s actions will help grow the economy and reduce the deficit, as more workers come out of the shadows and contribute to our economic growth and tax base, and entrepreneurs gain a greater opportunity to innovate and create jobs in the United States.
It remains my fervent hope that Congress will allow a fair vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill to permanently address our nation’s broken immigration system. That is the only long-term solution.
But the President’s actions are a strong step forward, consistent with the values that built this nation – opportunity, responsibility, family. These actions are an affirmation that we as a people will never forget where we came from.