President Barack Obama visited Del Sol High School in Las Vegas nearly two years ago to call for an overhaul of federal immigration law, declaring it one of his administration’s top priorities.
On Friday, a day after laying out his executive actions on immigration during a primetime speech to the nation, he returned to the school to sign a presidential memorandum enacting the plans.
The order grants deportation reprieves to two groups of undocumented immigrants: parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents who have been in the country for five years, and young people who entered the country illegally before January 2010.
Acknowledging that his moves may not outlive his presidency, Obama pledged to work with Congress to find long-term legislative solutions.
“This is the first step, it’s not the only step,” Obama said. “We’re going to keep working with members of Congress ... until that day comes, there are actions I have the legal authority to take to make our immigration system more fair and more just.”
The trip to Del Sol High brought Obama’s push for immigration reform full circle in a place that stands to reap benefits from his order. Nearly two-thirds of students at the school are Hispanic. Across Nevada, almost one in every six K-12 students has at least one parent who is an undocumented immigrant, according to a Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project report released this week.
Education groups and immigration activists are celebrating Obama’s actions as the first step in addressing longstanding concerns among educators about separating school-aged children from their parents and guardians.
“Educators know from experience that family unity plays a critical role in student success,” said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “Yet a growing number of public school students live in fear that our nation’s immigration policies will break up their families, forcing them to choose between their country and their loved ones.”
The plan would not include protections for their parents and also would not extend any such benefits to the wave of unaccompanied minors, most from Central America, who surged across the U.S.-Mexico border over the past year.
House Speaker John Boehner and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz are among the Republican lawmakers arguing that Obama is overstepping his authority by shielding millions of immigrants from deportation.
Boehner said Friday that Congress will not stand by as Obama “undermines the rule of law,” but gave no specifics on how congressional Republicans would respond to the president’s executive action.
“When members of Congress question my authority, I have a simple answer. Pass a bill,” Obama said. “We’re a nation that values families. We should work together to keep them together.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.