Take Yestel, for example. He is a civil-rights defender in New Orleans who bravely spoke out against racial profiling tactics currently being piloted in the South to identify, detain, and deport migrants as they carry out their daily activities. As a result, Yestel was nearly deported after being detained when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided a Latino-owned auto-body shop when he went to pick up his car. To the ICE agents that detained him and other Latinos, it didn't matter that Yestel had been working in and contributing to his New Orleans community for eight years or that he had a loving Louisiana family that depended on him. Yestel remains in deportation proceedings, though his mechanic, Wilmer, was not so lucky.
Wilmer was detained and deported just last month in an apparent retaliatory decision after his wife spoke out about the auto-body shop raid at a press conference. Wilmer has been ripped away from his family and his local community. He arrived in the U.S. in 2005 to help in the post-Hurricane Katrine reconstruction efforts. Yestel, who remains in the U.S., has joined 10 other individuals in a fight to obtain temporary relief from deportation. The group wants to expand the opportunity for people like them to apply for a program that allows undocumented migrants to remain in the U.S., work lawfully, and pay taxes.
Obama's legal authority to allow people like Yestel to come forward and apply to remain in the country to which they have long contributed is clear, and organizations like my own have been highlighting it for months. In early September, 136 law professors also put forth their unequivocal analysis, removing any semblance of a legal hurdle Obama may feel he needs to overcome to do what's right for the country.
Administrative action to remove the threat of deportation from millions of people would have economic benefits as well. A study released by the Center for American Progress this year noted that any executive action on immigration that also granted undocumented immigrants the right to legally work in the U.S. would produce potential payroll tax revenue amounting to anywhere from $21 billion to nearly $45 billion over the next five years. That's $21 billion to $45 billion that could be used to fund federal services and jobs, reduce pressure to raise other taxes, or shore up financially imperiled or costly federal programs.
So why would a president delay solving national problems using his own well-documented authority? Why would he put off action that would improve our economy and keep our communities whole? Politics, say the pundits. But even this argument falls short when one stops to look at the big picture. Latinos and Asian Americans—the groups that comprise most of the nation's undocumented immigrant population and report in large numbers personal relationships with undocumented immigrants—are a crucial part of the any voting bloc combination that can lead to victory in purple states like Colorado.