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Immigration reform not a ‘housekeeping’ policy, unjust laws devastate families on a daily basis

President Obama should make common sense repairs to a broken system.

By Arsalan Malik

ArsalanMalikWASHINGTON, DC: If you found yourself aboard a sinking ship, you wouldn’t just wait passively for a Coast Guard rescue; you would fix leaks and do what you could to stay afloat. Unfortunately, national leaders are not as rational when faced with broken government. While waiting for the House to get its act together and finally act on immigration, the Obama administration is standing idly by as the current broken immigration system continues to impose cruel and harsh results on countless families in the United States.

In June 2012, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative which instantly allowed undocumented youths to come out of the shadows and begin school, obtain employment, and pursue happiness, for at least a two-year period. Naturally, the initiative was met with wide acclaim from immigrant advocates, particularly the DREAMER movement.

Much like the President, immigrant advocates hoped that the initiative would push lawmakers to act quickly on a permanent, comprehensive solution. And while the early months of summer 2013 fueled much optimism over Congress passing immigration reform, the embarrassingly unproductive fall, the first weeks of 2014, and the pessimism expressed by many leaders confirm that the House is much too busy with high school antics to take anything, much less immigration, seriously.

Thus, it doesn’t seem likely that immigration reform will be a priority much less a reality anytime soon. But we should not let the decreased publicity fool us; with every day that goes by, the current, broken system continues to function—which is not a good thing at all.

Our immigration system is plagued with both structural inefficiencies and harsh technicalities which combine to create unjust consequences for millions. For one thing, undocumented aliens who do not qualify for deferred action—the parents of DACA applicants—are faced with a cruel catch-22: Because they’re undocumented, they cannot legally work. But if they do work—in an effort to support their families—they commit a criminal offense and become subject to deportation. Clearly, given the circumstances, the choice is often one between homelessness and immigration detention.

Undocumented aliens aside, even aliens who’ve pursued legal immigration are faced with severe injustices. There are countless aliens in “immigration limbo,” a period in which petitions for permanent residence or other benefits are either perpetually delayed or lost by the agency. Further, arbitrary denials by immigration officials have forced otherwise eligible aliens—aliens who have sometimes spent their entire lives in the United States—to face the costly and lengthy administrative appeals process.

The Obama Administration does not have to wait for Congress to address any of these issues. Through an executive order, agency rule, or prosecutorial discretion, the Administration can fix many problems overnight, just as it did with deferred action for childhood arrivals. For example, the Administration could provide equitable relief by granting permanent residence to aliens who have made bona fide, good faith efforts to pursue legal immigration. They could also issue work authorization for undocumented aliens who have lived in the United States for a certain period of time.

National leaders must realize that immigration is not a general, “housekeeping” policy. Immigration law impacts families on a daily basis. Minor technicalities in rules can devastate families and ruin lives. The Obama Administration cannot allow such injustice on their watch. Forget waiting for Congress—President Obama should fix what he can now, while continuing to lobby for a comprehensive solution later.

(Arsalan Malik is a second year law student at the Georgetown University Law Center.)