The Migrant Peacebuilding Project

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Obama's Immigration Order and Its Potential Effects on Guatemalan Migrants

Posted by migrant.peacebuilding.project on January 17, 2015 at 4:45 PM

By Greg Morano and Emily Muller

President Barack Obama’s executive order may set many important precedents for U.S. immigration policy in the years to come. As an executive order it is vulnerable to change, and the Republican controlled Congress will most likely overturn it in 2015. However, the order will influence future lawmakers and thus it must be taken into consideration when analyzing the impacts it may have on current and future immigrants.

The order seeks to accomplish four goals: strengthen border security, streamline legal migration, secure earned citizenship for non-criminals, and crack down on employers hiring undocumented workers. Overall, while the order will improve the lives of current undocumented immigrants living in the United States, it will make it much harder for future undocumented immigrants to enter the country and to receive employment. Specifically in terms of the estimated 652,000 Guatemalan undocumented immigrants on U.S. soil, the plan could prevent many stigmas of deportation and reintegration for future migrants, but it could worsen that of current undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The order would also lessen opportunities for future migrants attempting to secure job opportunities outside of Guatemala.

In terms of strengthening border security, this measure could prove costly not only for potential migrants, but for the Guatemalan economy as well. Even though the border will prove harder to cross, it will not stop migrants from attempting the dangerous journey. As the Roy Model of migratory economic opportunity indicates, Guatemalans with fewer skills can make much more money in the U.S. and will thus flee conditions such as a 54 percent poverty rate and a .551 GINI coefficient. Therefore, many Guatemalans may continue to risk the journey and get caught due to new security measures. This will only increase the number of people subjected to the social stigma that deported migrants receive upon returning to their homes. Also, increased border security could be dire for the Guatemalan economy as well. As of 2011, remittances from abroad contributed about ten percent of the Guatemalan GDP. It is possible this income will slowly decrease as it becomes harder to enter the United States. Overall, a strengthened border means less economic opportunities for poor and uneducated Guatemalans that have no chance of receiving of President Obama’s new startup visas.

Streamlining legal immigration would help some Guatemalan migrants receive jobs, but under Obama’s executive order it may not be sufficient to meet the high demand. While additional visas will be added to the system, many visas will attract foreign entrepreneurs and inventors that have finances; not the majority poor Guatemalans. On the bright side, the Department of Labor will strengthen worker protections for seasonal or temporary farm workers and their families. This could be a steady source of income for most Guatemalan families. Ultimately, this effort to streamline immigration will help bring short time farm work to the U.S. and could stop many from attempting the dangerous journey north.

A path to earned citizenship could give many Guatemalans living without papers in the U.S. a chance to become a citizen as long as they have not committed a crime and can pay a proposed ‘fee’. However, many Guatemalans living in the U.S. send most of their money back to their families and there is no plan to bring their family members to the states. For these reasons it is unlikely that a lot of undocumented Guatemalans will come out of the shadows.

By cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers many Guatemalan immigrants who have committed fraud and identity theft in order to receive a job may be caught and not offered provisional legal status. Immediately, this will only augment the issue of deportation and reintegration into Guatemalan society. However in the long run this measure may give future legal immigrants more protections in the work place.

Overall, we predict that President Obama’s immigration executive order will bring about the deportation of many Guatemalans and will make it harder for future migrants to enter the U.S. These two factors combined with the continued demand to seek better economic opportunities outside of Guatemala will increase the numbers of deportations. It is true that many Guatemalans living in the U.S. may find a path to citizenship due to this plan, but many will face deportation at the border or from within the U.S. This will make the work of the Migrant Peacebuilding Project that much more important to reintegrate these individuals into the Guatemalan society and job market.

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