Courtesy of The White House
Courtesy of The White House

On Nov. 20, President Barack Obama laid out his immigration reform plans, the Immigration Accountability Executive Action, which could potentially shield up to five million undocumented immigrants from being deported. Those who qualify for protection must be parents of U.S. citizens or of legal residents. The executive action also shields more students who fall under the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act by protecting any child who was under 18 when they were brought into the U.S. illegally before Jan. 1, 2010.

“What I’m describing is accountability. A commonsense, middle ground approach,” said Obama of his plan. The accountability aspect comes from ensuring that those undocumented immigrants who may qualify for this action have passed criminal and national security background checks.

“There are actions I have the legal authority to take as president … that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just,” said Obama. He emphasized that the executive action was a placeholder for an immigration law, such as the federal DREAM Act, which only Congress could pass.

As third-year UCR student Mafalda Gueta watched a livestream with a group of friends in Chicano Student Programs, the speech was initially underwhelming. “At first it was a bit confusing because at that moment, there wasn’t really anything concrete, and spelled out in writing.” However, once she talked it over with the people at the law firm in which she worked, she understood the executive action’s implications. “I was super ecstatic,” said Gueta. “It is a step in the right direction and I know so many folks are going to benefit from it.”

However, Gueta cautioned that this action is not enough and said that Congress still needs to pass a law that will permanently provide a path for citizenship. Currently, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) is in place as a policy that protects applicants from deportation for two years. The California DREAM Act is a state law which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, apply for private scholarships and receive Cal Grants.

The federal DREAM Act was first proposed in 2001. Under the DREAM Act, qualifying undocumented people would be eligible for a 6-year-long conditional path to citizenship that requires completion of a college degree or two years of military service.

 “(The executive actions are) only temporary and it can be taken away at any point in time,” said Gueta.

Currently, there are an estimated 300 undocumented students at UCR. An undocumented student coordinator will soon join the staff at UCR with funding from UC President Janet Napolitano’s one-time allocation of $512,000 to aid undocumented students at UCR.