Reps. Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson Host Forum on U.S. Immigration Policy

January 23, 2015

Almost politically unfathomable.

That’s how North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman characterized any attempt on the part of the Republican-controlled Congress or the next president to reverse President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration.

“It’s going to be very hard for the next president of the United States to go backward,” Huffman said Friday evening during a forum on immigration held in Santa Rosa.

Huffman, D-San Rafael, said that Obama’s executive order — which when implemented will grant undocumented immigrants a three-year reprieve from deportation — potentially could benefit up to 5 million people, many of whom have family members who are “voting U.S. citizens.”

Huffman’s comments were in response to a question posed by one of more than 200 people who attended the forum, which sought to provide information about the string of immigration-related executive actions taken by the president in November.

The forum, held at the Steele Lane Community Center, was hosted by Huffman and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. It featured a panel discussion that included the pair of congressmen and several people with knowledge of immigration laws and policies.

Monica Toro, Sacramento field office director for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that Obama’s executive actions included an expansion of his previous order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. That 2012 action gives undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally by their parents a two-year stay of deportation.

DACA, which previously had an age limit, now applies to anyone who entered the United States before the age of 16 and has lived in the United States continuously since Jan. 1, 2010. Also, the two-year stay of deportation under the original order was extended to three years.

The president’s new program is called Deferred Action for Parents of American citizens, or DAPA, and it allows the parents whose children are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to avoid deportation. Toro made it clear that the program has not yet been implemented and that no applications are available.

“Avoid immigration scams,” she said, adding that immigrants need to be wary of anyone prematurely offering legal or administrative help.

Madeline Feldon, a staff attorney for the International Institute for the Bay Area, which provides immigration legal services, said immigrants should seek only legal services from qualified professionals, such as immigration attorneys or a number of community-based organizations authorized to provide the service.

IIBA has offices in Napa Valley, but in Santa Rosa immigration legal services are available at Catholic Charities and the California Human Development Corp., she said.

“We really recommend that those who might qualify seek authorized services,” she said.

Feldon said that in some cases those who come forward seeking deferred action actually qualify for legal permanent residency, the first step toward obtaining U.S. citizenship.

The panel also included Dr. Chong-Uk Kim, a Sonoma State economics professor who has studied the economic impact of immigration.

Kim described the economic impact of granting deferred action to 4.7 million undocumented immigrants as simply “massive.” He said it would likely lead to an increase in gross domestic product and an increase in tax revenue of $2.9 billion in the first year and $21 billion over five-year period. Kim also said that it could also increase government expenses.

Addressing concerns about the possibility that immigrants will depress wages or take jobs from American citizens, Kim said there was no “empirical evidence” to support those fears.

Also on the panel was local immigrant advocate Jesus Guzman, a Sonoma State student who benefited from Obama’s 2012 deferred action initiative. The beneficiaries of that action are often called “Dreamers,” after the parallel Dream Act legislation that has languished in Congress. But Guzman said he considers his parents the real “dreamers” for bringing him to the United States for a better life.

“I’m convinced it was love for each other, love for themselves that transcended the border,” he said, adding that he was excited about his parents’ chance to apply for a reprieve under the 2014 order.

Both Huffman and Thompson made it clear that they would prefer to overhaul the country’s immigration laws through legislation instead of executive action. But they said the president was forced to act unilaterally because of congressional inaction.

Thompson said the Republican majorities in both the House and Senate will now have to show they can lead on what is proving to be a very difficult issue for the party.

“It’s one thing to be bomb-throwing. It’s another thing to legislate,” he said. “At the end of the day they have to produce the work.”

Source: By Martin Espinoza