Waiting in anticipation for President Barack Obama’s speech on immigration reform Thursday, dozens of students in a room in the Public Affairs building began speculating on what the president would announce.
When the speech began, the room went silent. After it ended, the excitement turned to disappointment.
“Not enough,” said one student, shaking her head vigorously.
In his Thursday speech, Obama laid out the executive actions that he plans to take on immigration, deferring the deportation of as many as five million undocumented individuals. The move, which Obama says is a response to congressional inaction in passing an immigration reform bill, is controversial because many say Obama should have gone through Congress to enact immigration reform.
However, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, an associate professor of Chicana/o studies, said he thinks the president had no choice but to go ahead with his actions.
“While it would have been nice to get a bill passed in Congress, I don’t think that the Republican Party is ready to move on any meaningful immigration reform yet,“ Hinojosa-Ojeda said.
While many immigration reform advocates, like the students who gathered in the Public Affairs building, said they are happy that some progress is being made, some said they think more needs to be done for undocumented individuals.
“This (immigration reform announcement) was just like a little cookie to show that he is doing something … a political move to push Congress to do something,” said Magali Sanchez-Hall, a graduate student in public policy.
One of the main reasons why some immigration reform advocates said they felt disappointed is because parents of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients won’t be eligible for deferment of deportations under the policies.
DACA was implemented by the Obama administration in 2012 to defer the deportations of undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children.
While the action expanded DACA to anyone who came to the United States before the age of 16 and have been present since Jan. 1, 2010, the president stopped short of expanding it to the parents of DACA recipients, choosing to grant deferments only to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents.
“I don’t consider (Obama’s actions) a victory because there are still many people like myself who are DACA recipients whose parents could still face deportation,” said Daniela Ortiz-Silva, a fourth-year anthropology student. “I feel that many parents are going to remain in this legal limbo. That’s not fair and they should feel protected and welcome in this country.”
Ortiz-Silva is part of a support network for undocumented students on campus called Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, or IDEAS. She said IDEAS is planning on reaching out to members of Congress in hopes of getting a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed that would include more than deferment.
Others said they support Obama’s action because they think it is good that he is taking some action to support millions of undocumented individuals.
“Obama can only do (so) much, and this is a good first step,” said Aret Frost, a fourth-year political science student and president of Bruin Democrats. “These actions show that the Democrats are a party of action that is willing to get something done.”
Frost said he thinks that if Obama went further, he could have run into legal and political problems.
A major subject of debate after Obama’s speech was whether or not his actions are constitutional, and whether he overstepped his power as president.
Jacob Kohlhepp, external vice president of Bruin Republicans, said he thinks Obama should have gone through Congress and that any immigration reform should begin with securing the U.S. border with Mexico.
“I think that Obama’s actions invalidate the rule of law and punish those who come to this country legally,” said Kohlhepp, a third-year political science and economics student. “While I do believe that there needs to be immigration reform, it should be done with Congress and not in the manner that he has done.”
Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law, said he thinks Obama has the full constitutional authority to implement the actions he listed.
“Presidents have the prosecutorial discretion to choose which violations of the law they should prosecute, and this means that the president can defer the deportation of undocumented individuals,” Winkler said. “I think that there is absolutely no chance that the Supreme Court would say that these orders violate the Constitution.”
Despite the controversy, Francisco Lopez-Flores, a fourth-year Chicana/o studies student, said he feels happy that Obama’s actions may benefit many people.
“I’m glad because my friend just called me up and told me that he now qualifies for deferment,” Lopez-Flores said.