Presently, about 11.7 million immigrants are undocumented and living in the United States without legal immigration status. Due to President Barack Obama’s new program, millions of these immigrants are protected from being deported and many will now be able to receive benefits such as Social Security, Medicare and other federal benefits.
On Nov. 20, Obama delivered a speech explaining his plan. This new program will take action in correcting an outdated immigration system. His program includes a set of guidelines that will allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States temporarily as long as they have lived more than five years in this country, have children who are American citizens or legal residents, register and pass a criminal background check and are capable of paying their share of taxes.
Chelsey Welden, an Urban Planner for the City of St. Petersburg, is a single mother who shares a child with an undocumented immigrant. For her and her child, the new program has both benefits and drawbacks. In her opinion, Obama took a step toward a much-needed reform; however, it acts only as a band-aid to a complicated problem.
“It gives families a false sense of hope that they will be legal, functioning residents here,” Welden said. “Obama has also streamlined the citizenship process, but it requires that undocumented immigrants pay taxes and a penalty. These people often barely make enough to support their families.”
As for the father of her son, Welden seems fairly optimistic of his future if all goes as planned.
“If he can work legally, I’m not afraid of him losing his job and not being able to support his child. I’m also not afraid that there’ll be a harsher crackdown and he will be imprisoned for working illegally or not paying enough taxes. If he becomes a legal citizen… there is more of a chance he will be helping out with his son’s expenses.”
According to the law, those who pay taxes are considered “lawfully present in the United States” and are thus granted things such as survivor and disability benefits.
“I know my son’s father doesn’t make a lot of money as a line cook, which is the job many undocumented immigrants have,” Welden said. “If he has to pay a significant penalty to get his worker’s permit, he’ll choose not to get it, regardless of the benefits. The additional taxes taken out of his paycheck will also be a deterrent. Many immigrants are paid under-the-table, which means they don’t pay any taxes at all. Most aren’t really afraid they’re going to get caught, so there’s no incentive for them to get this worker’s permit. Part of the new policy is to crack down more harshly on employers who hire undocumented immigrants, so this might push more of them to apply for the permit, but will also put a lot of hard workers out of work.”
The estimated 5 million immigrants who will be granted protection, however, will not be allowed to collect benefits such as student financial aid, welfare or subsidized housing. In addition, they will not be allowed to receive health insurance through health-care exchange from the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans appear to be surprised by the program simply because immigrants will soon be given government sanctioned benefits of Social Security and Medicare, two of which are prominent economic securities for what used to be only elderly Americans.
Immigrants who register for the program and can meet the requirements will be granted stay in the United States without fear of deportation for three years. According to the Huffington Post, Congress still has the option to defund Obama’s program, which could be very likely due to the Republican control of the Senate. This could also potentially result in another government shutdown. Some conservative lawmakers have considered creating a bill that would fund all federal government operations with the exception of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This in turn would most likely make Obama withdraw his program, considering the program would solely rely on his funding, avoiding another government shutdown.