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America's Immigration Divide Could Have Impact on Kentucky

PHOTO: An estimated 14,000 to 20,000 undocumented individuals in Kentucky could be helped by President Obama's recent executive action, according to the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic in Lexington. Photo credit: Flickr.
PHOTO: An estimated 14,000 to 20,000 undocumented individuals in Kentucky could be helped by President Obama's recent executive action, according to the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic in Lexington. Photo credit: Flickr.
December 9, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. - A Lexington immigration attorney says President Obama's controversial plan to grant five million undocumented individuals temporary stays and work permits is a "temporary fix."

Guion Johnstone serves as program director at the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic, which offers assistance to the immigrant and refugee communities in Kentucky.

"It's far from perfect, but it does make a very real difference, at least for three years in these peoples' lives," she says. "They're going to be able to work lawfully, pay taxes, get a driver's license and drive lawfully."

Johnstone says an estimated 14,000 to 20,000 undocumented individuals in Kentucky could benefit from Obama's plan, an she agrees with an analysis from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy that labels the plan "good news for Kentucky." According to the report, "More money in their pockets to spend on rent, school clothes and other basic needs will help the whole economy."

But Kentucky's senior U.S. Senator, Mitch McConnell, has been against the idea since the day Obama unveiled his plan.

"It will make an already-broken system even more broken," he says.

McConnell claims it's unfair to those who have gone through the immigration process and to "the millions of Americans who still can't find work in this economy."

Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change, says while advocates "will celebrate this victory" they will continue to fight for a permanent solution.

"We can't forget that over two million people have been adversely impacted by the President's immigration policy," she says. "So it feels like this is a new page in a book that has been filled with a lot of pain for our communities."

Johnstone agrees comprehensive immigration reform through Congress remains the ultimate goal. She hopes Obama's plan is a "step" in that direction.

"My hope is that it would prompt Congress to act a little more quickly, because this has been a problem for years," says Johnstone.

McConnell, who will become Senate Majority Leader next month, promises the new Congress will act - but immigration advocates note there hasn't been any comprehensive legislative action on the matter in almost 30 years.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY