The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama, impatient waiting for Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform, has gone out on his own to address the issue unilaterally in any way he can. By executive order, he will temporarily shield roughly four million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States through the use of prosecutorial discretion, a valid exercise of the executive branch’s constitutional authority. The criteria used will protect those immigrants who are the parents of American citizens, meaning that their child was born in this country, even if the parents entered the country illegally. Additionally, the Times prognosticates that about one million more such immigrants will be saved by the elimination of the so-called “Secure Communities Program,” which mandates local law enforcement agencies must check immigration status of all those arrested and accused of crimes.
The secure communities program, in particular, has been a pet peeve of mine. When I worked at City Hall, I debated my colleagues on municipal television arguing against the validity of its predecessor, known only as 287-g. In a recent editorial for The Daily Texan, it was described as “Orwellian,” a “brazen violation of due process” and a continuation of the “criminalization of immigrants” as the editorial board opined for its abolition. Basically, this part of the proposal took me by surprise, in a good way. The Times notes, rather stuffed away in the middle of their writeup, that “Local police will no longer be asked routinely to detain immigrants without papers.” That is a rather huge point.
As for those with citizen children, the roughly four million undocumented immigrants protected under the crux of the plan, the mechanisms are rather simple. They must pay back taxes, pass a background check and register with the Federal Government, but after that time, they can “come out of the shadows,” as Obama put it. Complete with Social Security Cards and everything. However, without congressional approval, there is no way that these individuals may be on a pathway to citizenship.
Finally, the actions expand Obama’s previous mark on the immigration program, the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), first implemented in 2012, which allowed for individuals brought into this country illegally as children to similarly be shielded from deportation. Under the new standards, anyone brought over illegally before 2010, as opposed to 2007, may be covered. Additionally, there would be no requirement that applicants be below a certain age anymore.
As expected, these actions enraged the Republican Party, which has been quick to castigate Obama as some type of malevolent dictator. This, despite that, as an editorial from The New York Times put it, “Presidential precedent, the law and Supreme Court affirmation all favor Mr. Obama” in his fight against Republicans. Simply put, the Times is right, as a plethora of Presidents, including Ronald Reagan, were all too eager to use presidential decrees for similar purposes.
However, as the Texas Tribune reports, Governor-elect Greg Abbott, who until next January will also serve as Attorney General, has sued the Federal Government anyway over the matter. However, as the Tribune notes when interviewing constitutional scholars on the topic, Abbott’s suit is largely frivolous and — whether or not you like the politics behind it — Obama’s actions are well within his legal rights.
All in all, I am quite supportive of Obama’s actions. They are the right thing to do, they will have profound impacts on the day-to-day lives of millions and they represent an audacious action on the part of the president. That three-part cocktail has been nonexistent throughout Obama’s tenure, as he has largely opted instead of the safer options that don’t rile people up.
When Republicans assume control of the US Senate in January, the 114th Congress will — not doubt — redouble its efforts to block Obama’s actions. He repeatedly noted throughout his remarks that Congress should, in his words, “pass a bill.” They most definitely will, but it won’t be one that he likes. They will pass a bill that seeks to undo all his actions, in a unified way, ending Obama’s argument that he is acting alone because Congress is dysfunctional.
History shows us that Obama will capitulate and fold like a cheap card table when that happens, and will likely largely reverse his program in some desperate effort to reach a compromise with Republicans. Contrarily, I strongly urge that he would push back nonetheless. Opinion polls show the public divided over Obama’s specific actions, but when polled in the abstract about the ideas, they are overwhelmingly popular. When push comes to shove, so to speak, Obama needs to appeal directly to the American people. If he sticks to his guns and doesn’t waffle, they just might have his back.
This is a nation of immigrants, as Obama also repeatedly mentioned in his speech. Now, I have fairly radical libertarian views on immigration, which may or may not include the phrase “open borders,” but I recognize that most others do not share my sentiment. Simply put, a continued influx of people who are eager to assimilate would be a godsend to any other practically any other developed country in the world. The United States, much like Europe or east Asia, faces a precipitously dropping birth rate. We would be condemned to the demographic disaster these other regions are facing, if not for our ever-expansive pool of prospective immigrants. And because this nation ascribes to the melting pot ideal, E Pluribius Unum, immigrants’ children mostly become completely assimilated members of society. This, in addition to the principle of birthright citizenship enshrined in the 14th Amendment (jus soli), sets us apart so much from the rest of the world, and it allows immigration to really be something with few drawbacks.
No families nefariously scheme about crossing the desert and sneaking past border guards because they don’t want to pay taxes. It’s because our legal immigration system is broken, something individuals on both sides of the aisle will freely stipulate. If you want to be Americans, and you have the means to provide for yourself once you enter, this country should welcome you with open arms.
As the statue of liberty says on its plaque, an homage to the poet Emma Lazarus, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”