Rethinking America

Why Obama Is Right on Immigration

Like Reagan and Bush, Obama takes action when Congress won’t.

Credit: J.D.S -


  • Many illegal immigrants speak fluent English, pay taxes, have homes and have children who are US citizens.
  • Many Americans have a double standard when it comes to illegal immigrants working in the US.
  • Undocumented immigrants play a vital role in local economies, which have accommodated them.

As an African immigrant here in the United States, I believe that President Obama was right to issue an executive order to help a segment of the immigrant population get temporary legal status to live and work in the United States.

The President gave Congress ample time to act on immigration, but it failed to act, and now Members of Congress are accusing the President of behaving like a czar or a king.

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When covering immigration, the media often focus on the thousands of immigrants who cross the borders illegally. They fail to mention the thousands of immigrants who came here legally and overstayed due to numerous circumstances.

Many of these immigrants speak English fluently, pay taxes regularly, have homes and have children who are United States citizens. Yet because there is no clear comprehensive immigration policy, these immigrants, like the ones that came illegally, are constantly facing the fear of deportation.

Although those Congress people who oppose immigration reform often cite their support from the American public, many Americans have a double standard when it comes to immigrants.

What happens in the real economy

In many jurisdictions like Northern Virginia, undocumented immigrants play a vital role in the local economy. In cities like Woodbridge, Alexandria or Arlington, undocumented immigrants stand on street corners where they are picked up to do construction and menial jobs for citizens.

Those citizens pay them pennies, compared to the wages for hiring Americans. In fact, in a section of Arlington, Virginia, called Shirlington, authorities built a park where the undocumented immigrants may spend the day while waiting for work.

Walk into any nursing or assisted living home in any major city in the United States, and you are greeted by hard working nurses and aid workers from Africa, Asia or other parts of the world. They do all the menial jobs in these homes.

Most Americans have no problem with so-called aliens who take care of their parents, mow their lawns, fix their roofs or clean their houses. As long as the aliens are confined to low-paying jobs that Americans do not want and kept from mainstream jobs, they do not have a problem with foreign workers.

It is when new immigrants strive to get legal status and realize the American dream that many citizens oppose immigration reform. This is not the American spirit.

The Republicans who vow to fight Obama on this issue and to cut off funding for the government are treading on a dangerous path.

As already widely reported, both President Reagan and George H.W. Bush issued executive orders on immigration issues. Moreover, the Republicans should realize that without votes from immigrants, they are less likely to win the presidency in 2016.

In any case, as President Obama pointed out during his speech on immigration, this is not just a political issue. It is about giving hard working immigrants the status they have earned.

A friend of mine in Rhode Island has worked in the same company for more than a decade, owns his own house where he lives with his wife and children, pays his taxes and is law abiding. The executive order will grant him legal status to stay in this country and take care of their two American kids.

Until the incoming Republican controlled Congress passes a comprehensive immigration reform bill that President Obama can sign, the Republicans and their backers can continue to complain.

Meanwhile, immigrants that have been given temporary legal status will continue to stay and work in this country. That is a good thing both for the American economy and for the immigrants and their families.

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About Jacob Conteh

Jacob Conteh is a research and writing consultant. He grew up in a farm in central Sierra Leone, before immigrating to the United States in 1987.

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