Local response to immigration reform splits predictably

  • By Jerry Cornfield and Noah Haglund Herald Writers
  • Thursday, November 20, 2014 8:24pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

EVERETT — For Juliana Perez, the immigration plan that President Barack Obama announced Thursday could help right a long-standing injustice.

As a tax-preparer and notary public who works with the Latino community, Perez sees it year after year. While she arrived in Everett legally from Panama 26 years ago, other immigrants didn’t have that opportunity. They toil away in obscurity as undocumented workers.

“These are families that are part of our community,” Perez said. “They are working, they have a home. They have children who were born here. Yet the only thing holding them back is the legal status in the country.”

The president’s plan promises to benefit not only undocumented families, she said, but employers and the economy.

Perez’s appreciation for the president’s action was widespread in Latino communities, but created predictable partisan rifts.

“When it comes to fixing our broken immigration system, the American people want a permanent solution, not a quick fix,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, a member of the House leadership team. “They want the most effective solution, not the most expeditious one.”

The plan would give up to 5 million undocumented immigrants valid U.S. work permits and temporary relief from deportation.

The largest group that stands to be affected are 4.1 million parents who are in the country illegally but whose children are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. In Washington, an estimated 70,000 to 90,000 could benefit. The president also is trying to ease the visa process for foreign high-tech workers.

Those cheering and jeering President Obama’s proposals on immigration did agree Thursday on one thing — Congress isn’t off the hook.

The president’s plans can be erased by his successor. Any lasting reforms require congressional action.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene issued a statement supporting Obama’s decision, “in light of House Republicans’ consistent failure to act on immigration reform.”

“The only long-term solution to fix our broken immigration system is for Congress to fulfill its responsibility to pass legislation,” she said.

Many Republicans denounced Obama’s move as an abuse of presidential power.

Pedro Celis of Redmond, a Republican who lost to DelBene in this year’s election, said the focus should be on whether Obama has the power to make such changes. He’s also a legal immigrant from Mexico who found success in the high-tech world.

“The issue here is does he have the authority to deal with illegal immigration” in this manner, Celis said.

“He should be working with Congress to make all this happen,” said Celis, a former chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. “He’s kind of baiting Congress to do something. I hope Republicans use this as a rallying point to work on legal immigration laws.”

Short of shutting government down, there may be little that Congressional Republicans can do right away to counter Obama’s move because they have almost no fiscal leverage over the federal agency that enforces immigration laws.

More than 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, the Pew Research Center estimates. About two-thirds of them come from Mexico or Central America.

The center estimates the number of illegal immigrants in Washington state at 230,000.

Gov. Jay Inslee called the president’s proposals “humane, necessary reforms” that will assist families and support the state’s economy, especially the agricultural sector.

“The plan will also increase border security and enforcement where it should be — against criminals and individuals who would pose a threat to our national security,” he said in a statement.

Up to 90,000 men and women in Washington could benefit from the president’s plan to allow parents of children born in the U.S. to gain temporary residency, said Rich Stolz, executive director of OneAmerica, the state’s largest immigration advocacy organization.

“That could mean parents of children in our schools not living in fear of being separated or deported,” he said. “That’s a significant change in the lives of thousands of Washingtonians.”

Stolz said that federal laws must still be changed because actions taken by Obama can be reversed by a future president.

“Everything he is doing is of a temporary nature. We still need Congress to act on comprehensive reform,” he said.

Nina Martinez, the Everett-based chairwoman of the nonprofit Latino Civic Alliance, a statewide advocacy group, said the law could have a huge effect on workers locally. That included people working in Snohomish County’s service industry, as well as agricultural workers in Skagit and Whatcom counties.

“I want to praise Obama for taking the leadership to protect millions of hardworking families who have suffered way too long with an immigration system that is clearly broken,” Martinez said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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