Intent on action, President Barack Obama last week bypassed Congress to initiate major changes in how the nation’s immigration laws are administered. Republican reaction to Mr. Obama’s unilateral action, which left even a few Democrats queasy, was immediate and predictably critical, portending months of legislative trench warfare as the president heads into the final two years of his term with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.
The effects of Mr. Obama’s “Immigration Accountability Executive Actions,” as they are known, will reverberate across the country and ripple over Martha’s Vineyard, home to hundreds, thousands — there is no accurate way to know — of undocumented immigrants, many, but not all, natives of Brazil.
The White House said the President’s executive actions “crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes as they register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.”
Of course, the details are what will matter at the local level, where policies meet reality. Just what these changes will mean and how they will affect the daily interactions and relationships that affect our Island community remain uncertain.
Mr. Obama’s new policy allows applications for work authorization and relief from deportation for unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for more than five years and have children that are either citizens or legal residents. The president also expanded the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan, which allows people who entered the country illegally as children to work without fear of deportation.
It is long past time to allow business owners who need hard-working employees and undocumented immigrants who only want to work hard to emerge from the Island’s shadow economy and abide by the same rules as everyone else.
Mr. Obama said the federal government would simultaneously heighten border security and focus on deporting criminals. In the past, under the Secure Communities program, Dukes County Sheriff Mike McCormack shared information including fingerprints of individuals arrested and held at the Dukes County Jail with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Effectively identifying and removing criminals in state and local jails is a critical goal, but it must be done in a way that sustains the community’s trust,” the White House said. The executive order replaces the Secure Communities program with a new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) intended to remove those convicted of criminal offenses.
Whatever the name of the program, repeat drunk drivers, thieves and those guilty of violent crimes ought to be sent packing and not allowed to spend time in the relative comfort, when compared with other facilities, of the Dukes County House of Correction.
Take the case of Jose Matos, also known as Wilson Matos, formerly of Tisbury. The Times reported that at the time of his arraignment in June 2012 on three sexual assault charges in Edgartown District Court (rape of a child by force, indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and assault and battery) he had already been ordered deported.
According to the police report, the child’s parent told police “that Matos is well known in the Brazilian community because in the late 1990s he was arrested for counterfeiting money and jailed for several months before he was deported to Brazil.” The parent said “that Matos then came back into the U.S. via Mexico, and the Brazilian community was well aware that he was back on Martha’s Vineyard as if nothing ever happened.”
At the time of his arrest, Mr. Matos had a Social Security number, a valid Massachusetts driver’s license, and a legally registered vehicle.
If Mr. Obama’s executive order ensures that the likes of Mr. Matos do not return to our community then it will prove its worth.
In a story published October 5, “Martha’s Vineyard welcomes soldier home from Afghanistan,” reporter Janet Hefler described the warm Island welcome home for Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Wender Ramos upon his return from a nine-month tour to Afghanistan as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
He and his sister arrived on Martha’s Vineyard from Brazil in 1994 to join their mother, who moved to the Island a year earlier. He didn’t speak English when he first arrived, but that changed quickly.
He graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 1999, attended Bridgewater State College and earned his private pilot’s license. He graduated with a degree in aviation sciences in 2006, and went to work for a company that ran tradeshows.
Pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot and a U.S. citizen, he enlisted in the Army in 2010 and applied for U.S. citizenship. He wanted to become a citizen in the country where he had spent most of his life because, he said, “It just completed living here.”
Whatever emerges from the expected legislative and Constitutional tussle over immigration reform, Wender Ramos offers an example of all that is good about a policy that creates a pathway to citizenship for those who have behaved responsibly.