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Indiana officials critical of Obama for acting alone on immigration

 Novmeber 20, 2014 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article 

President Barack Obama’s decision to act on his own to address what to do about the millions of immigrants in the country illegally drew criticism Thursday from multiple public officials in Indiana.

Gov. Mike Pence said he is looking into filing a lawsuit to stop the changes.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce Vice President Cam Carter, who has been urging the federal government to revamp the immigration system, called the president’s action a setback for a lasting overhaul.

Republican members of the congressional delegation said they would back attempts to block the president’s actions.

Even Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, who voted for an immigration overhaul bill that was passed by the Senate last year but stalled in the House, said only Congress has the authority to change immigration rules.

“I am as frustrated as anyone that Congress is not doing its job, but the president shouldn’t make such significant policy changes on his own,” Donnelly said.

But Thursday night, 17-year-old Perry Meridian High School senior Jesus Ramirez and dozens of others in Indianapolis celebrated the relief from years of “what if?” worries.

What if we get stopped? What if Mom gets deported? What if our family gets separated?

When Ramirez leaves for school in the morning, he wonders: What if when he comes home in the afternoon, his parents are gone?

His parents, who he says are undocumented after fleeing violence in Mexico in 2004 and overstaying tourist visas, likely will be eligible for temporary legal status under Obama’s actions.

“It’s amazing that this is going on,” Ramirez said. “Obama’s finally moving toward what millions of immigrants are asking for.”

Obama announced Thursday night that he will issue executive orders protecting from deportation almost 5 million immigrants in the country illegally. He also will make it easier for foreign workers trained in high-tech fields to get into, and stay in, the country. And he will focus deportation efforts almost exclusively on undocumented immigrants who pose a threat to national security, are members of gangs or have serious criminal records.

An estimated 33,000 unauthorized immigrants in Indiana who are parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, as well as 10,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, could benefit, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive — only Congress can do that,” Obama said of his plan. “All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.”

For Ramirez’s family, it lifts the stress that comes simply by seeing a police officer.

Ramirez’s little sisters “freak out” when they notice police, he said, for fear it will lead to their parents’ detainment and deportation: “Those people are supposed to be our protectors, not someone who could take their mommy and daddy away.”

His parents left Mexico to protect their family — his father gave up his business to work in construction, and his mom gave up nursing to work at Taco Bell — yet faced daily fears of being broken apart in the U.S.

“They lost what they worked so hard for in Mexico to come here,” Ramirez said. “And yet, even though it’s not the military that’s looking for us and trying to kill us, a cop could stop them and deport them to Mexico, where they have no future.”

The family was among those gathered Thursday night with the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network at St. Anthony Catholic Church on the Westside.

Obama’s executive orders, they cheered, were a sign that their activism was paying off — and that little by little, they would continue to strive to win legal status for more undocumented immigrants.

“We are not invisible,” said Juan Perez, 43. “Now, we count.”

Perez said the executive orders likely will grant legal status to his wife, and he hopes it also could aid him when his work visa expires.

“I’m paying taxes,” he said. “I pay for my own house. I am doing everything, but I need this.

“We are good people. We are not people who want to make any trouble. We want to be working, we want to take care of our kids, and that’s it.”

Saying the public won’t support the president’s actions, Indiana Rep. Luke Messer, R-Shelbyville, was among those vowing to do whatever necessary through the legislative process to block the changes.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., likewise said he is working with colleagues to explore legislative and legal options to “stop the president’s blatant disregard for our nation’s system of checks and balances.”

Coats opposed the comprehensive immigration overhaul bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate last year. It included major changes in the way visas are issued for legal immigrants, a new guest worker program for farmworkers, a mandatory requirement for employers to check the legal status of their workers through a federal database, a doubling of Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border and a pathway to citizenship for many of the 12 million undocumented immigrants now living with the fear of deportation.

After the GOP-controlled House did not take up the Senate bill or approve its own overhaul, Obama said he would move forward in the areas where he had legal authority to act on his own.

“To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” Obama said in his address to the nation.

Pence said Obama is not taking into account the fact that on Nov. 4, after the Senate bill passed, “the American people changed the majority in the Senate.” Republicans will take control of the Senate in January.

“And so what the president ought to do,” Pence said Wednesday at a gathering of Republican governors, “is to sit down in January with the new Republican majority in the Senate and the historically large new majority in the House and search for common ground.”

Pence’s spokeswoman said Thursday the governor’s office has had preliminary discussions with Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office about filing a lawsuit to stop Obama’s action.

“After the executive order is issued, we will analyze it and determine the next steps for the state of Indiana,” said spokeswoman Kara Brooks.

Pence knows how difficult it is to get Congress to agree on immigration changes. When the issue was dividing Republicans in 2006, Pence, then a House member, faced a fierce backlash from conservatives when he tried to offer what he hoped would be a middle ground. It went nowhere.

Business leaders in Indiana had hoped the federal government would finally act during this Congress, after a coalition of businesses, law enforcement groups, labor interests, religious leaders and some conservatives backed action. But Obama’s actions now make it more difficult to find a solution, Carter said.

“No one likes the current system. Everyone would like to see it work better,” Carter said. “The only way you’re going to have a constructive and durable reform is for the people’s elected representatives in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — to come together and hash out the differences they have on what reform ought to look like.”

In addition to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Farm Bureau has called for action. And a national coalition of mayors and business executives that has been pushing for an overhaul includes the chairmen of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. and Columbus-based Cummins Inc.

Zoeller traveled to Washington in 2013 to represent attorneys general supporting federal action. Zoeller had opposed a law the General Assembly passed in 2011 that gave local police powers on immigration enforcement, arguing that its constitutionality would be difficult to defend.

“It is beyond frustrating both that Congress has thus far failed to exercise its authority to reform immigration policy and that the president has apparently exceeded his authority by declining to enforce certain laws, in an area where states are prohibited from acting,” Zoeller said Thursday. “Inaction by the federal legislative branch does not justify the federal executive branch overstepping its bounds. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Indiana is among the 14 states where the number of unauthorized immigrants fell from 2009 to 2012, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

There were an estimated 85,000 immigrants living in Indiana without permission in 2012, down from 100,000 in 2009. The drop was due to a decline in the number of immigrants from Mexico, according to the report.

Mexico is the country of birth for about 68 percent of the unauthorized immigrants in Indiana. The countries of origin of the two next-largest numbers of unauthorized immigrants in Indiana are India (4 percent) and Guatemala (4 percent.)

Nationwide, the number of immigrants in the United States illegally accounted for about 3.5 percent of the 2012 population. In Indiana, the share was an estimated 1.3 percent. Those immigrants represented 1.9 percent of the state’s workforce.

Jeffrey Passel, Pew’s senior demographer, said data from 2013 have not been analyzed at the state level, but the overall trend is continuing.

“We are not getting very many new unauthorized immigrants,” he said. “I don’t think it’s widely appreciated that the numbers peaked five years ago.”

Since 2007, large numbers of Mexicans who illegally entered the U.S. have returned home, either voluntarily or through deportations, Passel said. The return rate was about 300,000 per year from 2007 to 2009 and 150,000 from 2010 to 2012.

As a result, an estimated 61 percent of the adult immigrants still in the U.S. illegally have been here 10 years or longer.