By Kate Segal

The views and opinions presented in this piece are that of the author’s and not necessarily The New School.

Kate Segal_headshotIn the United States of America, a homophobic, climate-change denier who thinks that the government “creat[es] dependency, destroy[s] individual responsibility” and that in “the last 15 years, there has been no recorded [global] warming,” just became the first candidate for the 2016 presidential election. If this is the type of leader our country has to look forward to, it is a scary time to be anyone except a wealthy, heterosexual, white man.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose Cuban background does little to mask his xenophobia, also has a track record of staunchly opposing immigration reform and amnesty. So when President Obama passed the Immigration Accountability Executive Action in November 2014, which he claims would enable up to 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. to obtain temporary legal status and work permits, the state of Texas led the charge to block it. On February 16, 2015, Texas judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction to halt implementation of the executive action after a coalition of 26 states alleged that Obama had gone beyond the scope of his powers. The move prolongs the serious exclusion from the country’s social and economic fabric that noncitizens contend with every day. Senator Cruz called it a “HUGE victory for rule of law.”

As an activist with several years of professional and academic focus on migrants’ rights in the U.S., the GOP’s anti-immigration stance comes as no surprise. But before laying blame solely on the GOP for the country’s state of immigration, let’s take a look at the Obama administration’s track record. It has deported more non-U.S. citizens than any of its predecessors, with the number of deportations steadily increasing over the past few years. Over 438,000 non-citizens were deported in 2013, up from 418,397 deportations in 2012 and 387,134 in 2011. Though President Obama says that any immigration reform should focus on “stopping the people at the borders, reinforcing our effectiveness there, going after criminals and felons who are in our midst,” fewer than half of those deported in 2013 had prior criminal convictions. While President Obama paints pictures of the “striving young student” or the “hard-working mom … snatched from her child,” he glosses over the ramp-up of detentions and deportations of these very people on his watch.


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His framing of the good/deserving immigrant and the bad/criminal immigrant is not new in our immigration policies. For example, on the DREAM Act, which aimed to provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, Dr. Martha D. Escobar explains, “the DREAMers … are constructed as these ideal students who are unable to fulfill their dreams because they’re undocumented. Well there are tons and tons of kids who for many reasons, who are undocumented, are not able to fit into that narrative of DREAMers. They’re not valedictorians, many of them are middle school drop-outs—push-outs, more than anything—who don’t fit that narrative. So these narratives exclude them.” john a. powell notes that undocumented immigrants and those with prior criminal convictions are already some of the most marginalized groups in the U.S., as they are denied both public rights and private freedoms.

Obama’s executive action would do little to address this social exclusion. The only ones to whom it will apply are non-citizens who were either brought to the U.S. as children or are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Moreover, the executive action only provides temporary relief for those at risk of deportation. It includes no pathway to citizenship or eligibility for permanent status, and parents are not eligible for federal benefits—not even Obamacare. As argued in Uncommon Ground: Race and America’s Future, any immigration policy that does not have “at its heart a pathway to citizenship for the millions working and living in the shadows” will do little to curb state-sanctioned discrimination, exclusion, and abuse of immigrants.

The executive action, the immigration policies that precede it, and the shudder-inducing thought of Ted Cruz as president underscore the very precarious state in which immigrants in the U.S. continue to live. Our policies need to acknowledge the diverse make-up of the country’s immigrant populations, take into account the realities they face, and break with the good/bad immigrant mold. Looking at the current and future political climates, all should have a stake in policies that promote a more inclusive society. It’s time for lawmakers to stop selling us “sweeping change” that in fact only reinforces—in Obama’s own words—our “broken” immigration system.


Kate is a student in Public Policy in Action: Advancing Social Equity in America. In conjunction with the class, Milano is holding the 2015 Henry Cohen Lecture Series, Public Policy in Action, devoted to advancing social equity in America.  The series examines how public policy serves as a vehicle to advance economic and social inclusion in the context of evolving demographic, economic, and political shifts in America. This series serves as a catalyst for the continuing dialog on the state of social justice in America.