Obama's Action Marks Historic Victory for Immigrant Rights, But Activists Warn of a Long Way to Go

StoryNovember 21, 2014
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Juan González

Democracy Now! co-host and columnist at the New York Daily News.

Maru Mora Villalpando

activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy, who has helped with a hunger strike organized by detainees at the Northwest Detention Center.

Josefina Mora

seventeen-year-old daughter of Maru Mora Villalpando.

In a prime-time speech Thursday night, President Obama outlined his plan to take executive action granting temporary legal status to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, protecting them from deportation. Under the plan, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be allowed to temporarily remain in the country and work legally if they have lived in the United States for at least five years and pass a background check. But the new plan will not provide relief to the parents of undocumented children, even those who qualified for deferred action in 2012. The executive order will also not provide undocumented immigrants any formal, lasting legal status. Many will receive work permits, which will give them Social Security numbers and the ability to work under their own names. But they will have to reapply after three years. We get analysis from Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan González, who watched the speech with a large group of undocumented immigrants Thursday night. We are also joined from Seattle by a family team of activists: Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy, and her daughter, Josefina Mora, a U.S. citizen.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a prime-time speech Thursday night, President Obama outlined his plan to take executive action to grant temporary legal status to up to five million undocumented immigrants, protecting them from deportation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal: that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

AMY GOODMAN: Under the plan, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be allowed to temporarily remain in the country and work legally if they’ve lived in the United States for at least five years and pass a background check. But the new plan will not provide relief to the parents of undocumented children, even those who qualified for deferred action in 2012. Immigrant rights groups held gatherings across the country last night to watch the president’s speech.

Juan, you were at one of those gatherings in Queens. Where were you? Who was there?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, in Jackson Heights on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, Make the Road New York, a very influential immigrant rights group, a grassroots organization here in this city, held a viewing party. The place was jammed, over 200 people crowding every single room with about a half dozen television sets. But to me, the most important part of it was not just the president’s speech, but the people giving testimony beforehand, talking in really emotional terms about the deportations that had torn apart families, the struggles that they had had coming to this country, being here 15, 20, 25 years without any kind of legal status. It was really an emotional night as they prepared to hear the president give his presentation.

And, of course, this—we’ve got to take this in context. It was nine years ago next month when the infamous Sensenbrenner bill was passed in the House of Representatives that would make it a felony for you to be in the country illegally or for anyone to assist an undocumented immigrant. And that is really what touched off this modern human rights movement, that we know as the immigrant rights movement, in a massive way, because by that spring millions of people had poured into the streets of all the major cities in the country. And everything that’s gone on since then has been a reaction to this whole new grassroots human rights movement of the immigrant community in the United States.

So this was a historic moment here, a culmination of that, although it’s—as everyone said in the speeches last night, there’s a long way yet to go, because this temporary resolution is just that, a temporary resolution. And in fact, it will be six months before any of the parents of undocumented immigrants can actually apply for legal status. And so that the Republicans in Congress, a new Republican majority has basically a six-month window, as Congressman Luis Gutiérrez said, to finally do something, rather than just complain and whine about what the president has done now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go back to President Obama’s speech Thursday night.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, here’s the thing. We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal. If you have been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama last night in this historic address. I want to bring into this conversation two guests from Seattle, Washington, a mother and her daughter. Maru Mora Villalpando is an activist and undocumented Immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy. And we’re joined by her daughter, Josefina Mora. She is a U.S. citizen.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Because Josefina is a U.S. citizen, that means that you, too, will become a U.S. citizen—is that right—under President Obama’s plans?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Good morning. Well, under this plan, I only get to be here for three years without being deported, and I could apply for a work permit. But that doesn’t put me in the path to legal permanent residence and then the path to citizenship. This is just a temporary relief. This is not permanent. It’s not really immigration status whatsoever. It’s very similar to what was granted to the childhood arrivals, the famous DACA.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you hear that already some of the Republicans in Congress are threatening to go to court, and some Republican governors are saying they will fight in their local states against providing work permits or providing driver’s licenses under the president’s executive order, what’s your response?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Well, it’s not surprising. I think that Republicans have been really good at showing that they’re anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-poor, anti-children. So when we fought for this incredible victory of ours, when we decided to shut down ICE, to put ourselves at risk of arrest and deportation, when the hunger strikers decided to call the attention of the world the detention center in Tacoma by putting themselves on risk, and their lives and their health, we knew that our target was the president, Obama, and we knew we were right. Obviously, we knew that whatever he does will be challenged by the Republicans, because that’s all they’ve been doing throughout all these years is challenging all his work.

So, what we are going to do is to continue fighting, not only to keep what we have right now—which is very little, but it’s a step—but also to expand it, to make sure that others are included, because the Not One More campaign, that’s what it’s about, is to stop all deportations. And most importantly is to make it permanent, not only a three-year program that will be renewed, but who knows what will happen if another president comes in? We cannot be relying anymore on politics and allow politicians to use us anymore as their political ball to play with.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Josefina Mora, one of the things that the president mentioned is that he plans to eliminate the Secure Communities program and replace it with a new program that would target much more those undocumented immigrants who are felons. Could you talk about how Secure Communities has affected the many Latino communities across the country?

JOSEFINA MORA: Yeah, so, Secure Communities has really implemented more dividing families, not only because it allows local enforcement to work with ICE, but also because even if these people don’t have—aren’t charged with anything, they’re going to be—they have an ICE holder on them, and they can at any time be taken by ICE. So, many of the cases that we’ve worked with, many of the people that I know, have been affected by Secure Communities. And that’s actually, I think, the biggest thing that has leaded to detention, is Secure Communities.

And although he, Obama, announced that he was going to end it, he said that he was going to ramp up more enforcement for those who do not qualify for this. So that puts people who do not qualify for this in even more danger than they were before. And, you know, really, that’s—although he’s granting temporary relief, he’s still making it a little bit worse for people who will not qualify. And although I’m lucky that my mom qualifies for this, I’m worried for people like me who actually are not citizens, my counterparts, who will be even in more fear than I am right now for my mom. They will be in more fear for their parents in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Josefina, how old are you?


AMY GOODMAN: You know, I think your view is reflected by the satirical newspaper The Onion. It’s headline captured many critics’ disappointment, saying, "5 Million Illegal Immigrants to Realize Dreams of Having Deportation Deferred." Republicans, though, say President Obama has overstepped his constitutional power by acting on his own. This is House Speaker John Boehner.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. That’s just not how our democracy works. The president has said before that he’s not king and he’s not an emperor. But he’s sure acting like one. And he’s doing it at a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to go back to our guests right now in Seattle, in Seattle, Washington. How are you, Josefina, going to organize? And, Maru Mora Villalpando, how will you be organizing at this point, because this is a period where decisions will be made as the Senate becomes Republican?

JOSEFINA MORA: Well, you know, I have always organized with my mom. I kind of have followed her wherever I’ve gone—wherever she’s gone, since I was about three years old. So, whatever she does, I will support her, and I will follow her, and I will do whatever I can in my school and in my community for people my age who do not—are not informed about the issue to really get involved and to really use, especially my white friends, to use their white privilege and their power to really influence decisions that are made in the future. And I hope to even in the future run for political office so that I can help in some small way to change this broken system, even though it’s changing, but very, very, very, very slowly. So, hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to help change that.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that President Obama is flying right now to Nevada. IN Nevada, it’s something like 17, 18 percent of kids have at least one parent who is undocumented, and I think in the state something like 8 percent of the whole population is undocumented. That’s where he will be making his announcement again, following two years ago where he was in Las Vegas, as well. Maru Mora Villalpando, your response?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Yeah, absolutely. I think that he is trying to sell this. And that’s the way he sounded last night: very apologetic. I think he just played with the rhetoric that the Republicans have used all this time.

For us, when reading the details of his action, of his executive action, it shows that now more than ever he made it really easy for us to know how we’re going to organize. We’re going to organize those that are left behind. We’re going to organize those that are going to be drafted into the military because there will be no route for them into any status. We’re going to work with those that will be targeted by this different program, just with a different name, but it’s really the same program—the PEP instead of the Secure Communities program. We’re going to work with border communities, including here in Washington state, that will see even more militarized border. We will continue working in addressing—pushing for the addressing of the roots of migration and the political stand and economic stand that the U.S. has portrayed throughout our countries that has really been the one that pushed us to this point of having to migrate. So, for us, the work at the detention center will continue more than ever, because it’s really—it’s really sad that those that organized the hunger strike, that those that put themselves on the line inside, are not going to benefit from this executive action. So, really, for us, the work just begun.

AMY GOODMAN: Maru Mora Villalpando, I want to thank you for being with us. And, you know, we last talked to you when you were protesting the immigration detention center in Washington. In Texas, a new 2,400-bed family detention center is set to open this December in Dilley, Texas. Josefina Mora, we also want to thank you for being with us. Again, Josefina is 17. She’s a U.S. citizen, so her mother, Maru Mora Villalpando, will qualify for the—under the executive order. This is Democracy Now! We’re going to continue on the issue of immigration and also the mass protests that are taking place in Mexico. We’ll talk to a leader of the New Sanctuary Movement. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Triste Bufon, "Canción de Protesta," "Protest Song." This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. And we’re going to link to Juan’s column in the New York Daily News today, having just come last night from a big gathering in Queens, New York, of hundreds of people—the headline, "Obama’s Immigration Actions are Bittersweet for Some."

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