California has almost as many immigrants as swing-state Ohio has people -- more than 10 million. So the way the president implements immigration policy over the next four years could have a profound impact on families around the state.
President Barack Obama and GOP opponent Mitt Romney agree on one thing: The United States is a "nation of immigrants." But as last week's fiery presidential debate drove home, the two candidates have clear differences in how they would deal with a Byzantine immigration system that both welcomes and deports hundreds of thousands of people each year.
"Comprehensive immigration reform" through federal legislation has been debated for so long that many political skeptics doubt it will ever happen. So increasingly, the sometimes unilateral role the president plays in creating immigration policy is emerging as the most salient issue to many immigrants.
Presidents can do a lot on the immigration front even if Congress refuses to take up the issue of comprehensive reform, said Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law.
The Obama administration, for instance, has "far outstripped its predecessors in terms of year-on-year deportations," Gulasekaram said. It has also, however, used its executive discretion to do something no president has ever done before: grant deportation relief to a whole class of illegal immigrants who are 30 or younger.
Ju Hong is
one of those immigrants. The 22-year-old UC Berkeley graduate is one of an estimated 350,000 young illegal immigrants in California eligible to apply for the new "deferred action" program, which grants two-year work permits and protection from deportation.
In the heat of the campaign, Democrats have pointed to the program as a compassionate temporary solution exposing the need for immigration reform amid partisan gridlock. And they've tried to paint Romney as an extremist for linking himself to the movement that strives to make illegal immigrants "self-deport" by depriving them of benefits and liberties.
Republicans, in turn, have portrayed Obama as an opportunist for failing to achieve the reforms he promised Latinos in 2008 and then offering the sudden relief measure just months before the Nov. 6 election.
Hong is enthusiastic about his pending relief from a decade-long fear of deportation, but he's also frustrated that Obama deported record numbers of people during the past four years and failed to achieve broader reform.
Hong, who came from South Korea to the United States on a tourist visa with his family when he was 11, worries about his mom and older sister, who are ineligible for the youth-focused reprieve.
"Vote, because I can't" is the message he is sharing in online essays and with everyone he knows. "I tell people my immigration story. There's always the question, what can we do to help? And I say, 'Vote. Vote for someone who really cares about immigrant communities.'"
But Hong admits that even if he could vote, he is too frustrated with both presidential candidates and their parties to have a clear favorite in the election.
For his part, Romney has pledged to honor the work permits granted by Obama, but says he would discontinue the program as soon as he is inaugurated and work for some kind of immigration reform in his first year. But he's also promised to veto the Dream Act, an Obama-backed, once-bipartisan measure that would grant a path to permanent residency and citizenship -- not just limbo status -- to youths brought here in their childhood. At last week's presidential debate, however, he said he would endorse a similar measure helping a smaller number of young illegal immigrants who join the military.
Most Popular Stories
- SEO Traffic Lab Celebrate Wins at Digital Marketing Event 'Internet World 2013' in London
- Social Media Initiatives Should Follow Customers' Lead
- Apple CEO: Offshore Units Not a 'Tax Gimmick'
- U.S. Senate Accuses Apple of Large-scale Tax Avoidance
- UTEP Water Recycling Project Wins Venture Titles
- Marketo Makes a Mint in IPO: Stock Shoots Up More than 50 Percent
- Bieber Booed at Billboard Awards
- Crude Oil Up, Gasoline Down
- Austin Startup Compare Metrics Raises $3.5 Million for Expansion
- Why So Many Top 'Car Guys' Are Actually Women