This week, the nation heard from President Obama about his historic decision to take administrative action that will protect millions of immigrant families from the perpetual threat of deportation. 

There is a “call and response” relationship between movements and elected leaders. The president has heard the call, and made history. The victory is partial and the long fight for true integration and full citizenship is far from over, but the movement has clearly created a paradigm-shifting turning point. His decision to protect men, women and children from detention and deportation is a historic compassionate and humane act that will keep families together in this country. Reforming our desperately broken immigration system is a moral imperative. 


The sanctity of families should always be the central focus of the immigration debate. Yet Republicans in Congress are ignoring the moral compass and instead focusing on their nasty partisan politics of the moment. They are turning a blind eye to families and standing on the wrong side of history. 

Over 50 years ago, President Kennedy gave a powerful civil rights speech and said, "Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis, men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.” 

Like Kennedy before him,  Obama is finished being patient. He understood that now is the time to act, and act boldly. 

The families impacted by our broken immigration system have long known that change was needed. Several years ago, my colleague and fearless advocate, Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and a co-chair of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) challenged Obama, asking him why his administration was deporting so many aspiring citizens. 

The president said that only criminals were being deported. I was sitting next to Angelica when she bravely corrected him and said, “No, Mr. President, that’s not what’s happening.” She leaned forward and continued, her hands trembling and her voice rising, “You’re deporting heads of households, mothers and fathers. Young people are sitting in detention centers when they should be sitting in the best universities in the country.” 

President Obama clearly heard Angelica when he recently echoed her point and said, “We are deporting people that shouldn’t be deported.” 

President Obama’s decision to act underscores that this isn’t a political game, these are people’s lives that hang in the balance. It’s about the millions of families who will be able to wake up on Saturday morning and know that they have the rest of their lives to spend together. 

It’s about the young women like Astrid Silva whose story the president eloquently told on Friday night. A young woman who the GOP voted to deport not once, not twice, but three times. 

Astrid came to the U.S. when she was only four years-old. The president continued, “When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to the other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mother cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school for fear the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant – so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.” 

Is this a woman who should be deported or one who we should hold up as a true American success story? 

Americans deserve to hear stories about people like Astrid, people who whose lives will be radically changed because of the president’s executive action, not the same political grandstanding we hear from Republicans day in and day out. We deserve to hear about the real lives that will be impacted by the president’s executive order. We deserve to hear about the Thanksgiving table that will be full, the birthdays that will be marked together, the graduations and weddings and babies that can be celebrated as a whole family. 

The president spoke powerfully to the moral moment. Now, millions of Americans will rally to the right side of history and millions of immigrants who will be left out of this decision will have hope that a permanent solution offering full integration is a promised land now within sight. 

This isn’t about politics. It’s about our nation’s values of family, community and morality.

Bhargava is executive director of the Center for Community Change.