What Does Obama's Immigration Order Mean For Undocumented Parents? Some Are Eligible For Deferred Action

On Thursday night, it finally happened. After months and months of waiting, the pledge President Obama made to countless undocumented immigrants, their families, and their advocates was laid on the table — he will issue an executive order on immigration reform, changing in an instant the country's legal landscape for an estimated 5 million undocumented residents of this country. Understandably, people have a lot of questions about it, and here's an important one to answer: What does Obama's immigration order mean for undocumented parents?

It's important to consider, because one of the particularly harrowing realities of America's broken immigration system has been its propensity to break up families. Although any child born in the U.S. is granted citizenship at birth, that privilege doesn't travel upwards to the child's parent, creating a situation in which children live in fear of their parents being deported. It goes without saying that when you're worried your mom or dad might be taken from you — while you're at school, for example — is about as heart-wrenching as anything.

And of all the great things about Obama's immigration order, which has seemingly triggered a full-blown meltdown on the part of his conservative opponents, is that it takes a step to try to remedy that situation, though the problem is far from solved.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Basically, Obama's executive order on immigration will allow some undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and green-card holders to apply for deferred action, granting them a three-year window during which they won't have to live with that constant fear of having the family broken up. And the best part is, the three-year term is renewable!

So, just which parents qualify for this program? As expertly detailed by Vox's Dara Lind, there are some quick details that are very important:

  • Parents must have been living within the U.S. since at least 2009, leaving anyone who immigrated less than five years ago ineligible.
  • Parents must apply for the program, which could prove to be a stumbling-block. Most undocumented families are, by and large, incredibly reluctant to risk interaction with government agencies and officials. And rightly so — if the wrong person knowing about your existence can get you kicked out of the country, you're not going to be keen to put your name on too many lists.
  • Parents will still be able to apply for deferred action, even if their citizen or green-card holding children are over the age of 18.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

This is obviously both a huge upgrade from previous circumstances, and also not nearly the size or scope of change that advocates and activists wanted. But, with a looming Republican-controlled Congress that'll likely be hostile to what progressives would consider humane immigration reform ideas, it's hard to know what could've been different — even though the Democratic-controlled Senate passed an immigration reform bill in 2013, the House GOP essentially let it languish and die.

And sadly, without an actual law being passed, there's an awful uncertainty cooked into all of this. Since the reforms are all enabled merely by executive order, that means the next president could abolish it with their own in an instant, before the program has even run its course. Which means in assured, practical terms, somebody receiving deferred action is only really guaranteed to be in the clear until the new president is sworn in in 2017 — and frankly, if that president has a R next to their name, things won't look as good.

Images: Getty Images (2)