Obama stresses that the next step for immigration reform is out of his hands

President Obama speaks on immigration at Del Sol High School Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Leo Murrieta shared tears of elation—and disappointment—last week as he spoke with friends and family in the wake of President Barack Obama’s new immigration actions. Murrieta, a Las Vegas resident and U.S. citizen from a mixed-status family, was overjoyed to find his sister would be eligible for a work permit. His good friend, however, found no relief for his undocumented parents. “Obama laid out the case for reform,” Murrieta said after the president’s speech at Del Sol High School. “We can’t forget this doesn’t cover everyone. It’s not perfect, and that’s why Congress has to pass a bill.”

Most practical observers of the immigration system agree that a sweeping overhaul is needed. Some immediate family members of U.S. green card holders wait two decades to reunite with loved ones. Congress doles out enough money to deport 400,000 people each year, meaning it would take more than 25 years to deport all the immigrants illegally in the country if no new ones arrived.

In Nevada, immigrants without legal residency make up 7.6 percent of the population, the highest proportion of any state, according to Pew Research Center. Approximately 110,000 immigrants in Nevada now qualify for one of Obama’s executive actions. Yet any future president can roll back the new programs, and only half of the immigrants eligible for the president’s deferred action for childhood arrivals applied.

Outside Del Sol, protesters unfurled “Impeach Obama” posters, galled by the president’s unilateral leap. Inside, an audience member shouted the president down for not offering more protections. On a day where most of the attention went to whether or not Obama did enough or too much, the president refocused attention, delivering the challenge to Congress’ door. “Pass a bill,” he said. “... the actions I’ve taken are only a temporary first step. I don’t have the authority to do some really important reforms. We should be creating new programs for farmworkers. We should be adding visas for the high-tech sector. We should be creating a pathway to citizenship. But only Congress can do that.”

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