Illegal immigration is a touchy subject in the United States. It is difficult to have a healthy debate on the subject at the best of times, and more so when the nation continues to fight against the fallout of a crippling recession. It is rather ironic that a nation built through centuries of immigration from people from various continents and cultures must now fight so vehemently to control that same influx of people who want nothing more than to build a happy life for themselves.
I must admit, as an international student, it is tricky for me to grapple with the sensitivity of the matter. However, based on what I have learned since coming to RIT, the issue of immigration boils down to the choice between what is right and what is fair. Making either choice brings trouble, but the fact remains that a choice needs to be made. President Obama appears to have chosen to do what is right, and kudos to him for being brave enough to do that — allegations of overreach notwithstanding.
Last November, Obama took executive action similar to those taken by every single president for the past 50 years. In a statement released by the White House, Obama invited undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and apply for deferral of deportation, provided they meet certain qualifications.
In 2012, the president announced that immigrants under the age of 30 would be able to apply for deferral of deportation if they were brought to the United States as children. In the latest executive order, the age limit has been waived to offer deferral to any immigrant brought into the country as a child. In addition, the order allows undocumented immigrants living in the United States for more than five years to apply as well, if they have children who are either legal permanent residents or United States citizens. The number of immigrants covered by the new order is expected to be approximately 4 million.
According to Jeffrey Cox, director of RIT’s International Student Services, the executive order is unlikely to affect the university. “At a university like RIT with a fairly high tuition cost, it is unusual for individuals in an undocumented status to be able to attend, mostly driven by the fact that they cannot access financial aid and can’t work,” Cox explained.
However, it is a fact that international students are a significant part of graduate enrollment at RIT. Unfortunately, the executive order does not expand the H1-B program for foreign citizens to work in the United States, despite lobbying from the technology sector. For these students, Optional Practical Training (OPT) remains the most viable option for working in the United States. According to Cox, “Currently, [international] students have access to one year of OPT. If they’re in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), they can extend that year for an additional 17 months, for a total of 29 [months].”
The sustained pressure, especially from Silicon Valley, on the subject of H1-B remains the center of the argument for immigration reform. However, according to Obama, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have refused to allow a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate to go to a vote, which is why he deems his executive order necessary.
The gridlock in Washington is helping no one, whoever may be responsible, and it is high time both the Democrats and the Republicans come together to work on a solution to an issue that both parties admit to being extremely important. Until then, executive orders by the president are the only sensible way forward.