What did the President do?
The President used his executive authority to direct the Department of Homeland Security to direct their enforcement activities on “national security threats, serious criminals, and recent border crossers,” and away from other illegals, especially the parents of children who have been in this country for at least five years. In addition he is:
- requiring the shift resources to the Mexican border;
- requiring reordered dockets in immigration courts to prioritize removal cases of recent border crossers;
- establishing immigration court reforms that will address the backlog of pending cases;
- replacing the existing Secure Communities program with a new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) to remove those convicted of criminal offenses;
- creating a mechanism that requires certain undocumented immigrants to pass a background check to make sure that they start paying their fair share in taxes;
- providing portable work authorization for high-skilled workers awaiting LPR status and their spouses;
- enhancing options for foreign entrepreneurs;
- strengthening and extending on-the-job training for STEM graduates of U.S universities;
- expanding the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program to cover additional DREAMers.
In particular, under the initial DACA program, young people who had been in the U.S. for at least five years, came as children, and met specific education and public safety criteria were eligible for temporary relief from deportation so long as they were born after 1981 and entered the country before June 15, 2007; now individuals who were brought to this country as children can apply if they entered before January 1, 2010, regardless of how old they are today. Going forward, DACA relief will also be granted for three years.
The President is apparently using an Executive Order to accomplish this, although the Order has not yet been posted on the President’s website. You can, however, see the President’s speech on the topic.
Is this the right thing to do on the merits?
This probably was the right thing to do on the merits. There are several things to consider about this:
- Historically, US “legal” immigration policies were demonstratively racist;
- Illegal immigrants are completely interwoven in and help to support the US economy.
For example, in the tiny state of Vermont, on the Canadian border, the majority of migrant farmworkers are Mexican. And the farmers love them because they work hard, don’t complain, and generally get the job done.
Was this the right way to go about it?
This probably wasn’t the best way to go about it. There is an argument to be made that at least some of what the President did is beyond his executive authority, and is likely to be decided in the federal courts. Factcheck.org has looked at past presidents have issued executive orders related to immigration, there are significant differences between what those Presidents did and what Obama proposes. I’m no constitutional scholar, so the question is beyond my personal area of expertise.
There is also the question of why the President decided to act now. To his credit, Obama has waited for six years for the Congress to tackle this issue. And in particular, the Senate passed a bill over 500 days ago that the House failed to act on. While some House members justify their lack of action by noting that they “did not like” certain parts of the bill, the obvious remedy for that would have been to pass an alternative bill and then work the differences out in Congress. Nor does it help the Republican causes that Harry Reid, the outgoing Senate Majority leader help up some of their priorities. As my (and probably everybody else’s) mother likes to point out, two wrongs don’t make a right.
It would certainly have been less provocative for the President to wait until the new Congress was seated, give them six months to address the issue, and when they failed — again — to act at that point in time. On the other hand the Republican’s claim that they likely would have acted if the President waited has no credibility at all. It rings completely hollow.
Why are the Republicans so exercised about it?
It appears that the Republicans are so exercised about the President’s acting because it puts them in a box politically. It cannot be understated how important this issue is to the Latino community as a whole. The Republicans are also aware of the geopolitical reality that the Latino community is generally the fastest growing community in the nation. California, Arizona, Nevada, even Texas, are likely to be 50% Latino within the next generation. In the near term, there is the 2016 Presidential election, where all the voters who stayed home this time around are likely to come to the polls in force. That means Latinos, young people, more women, other minorities. The majority of those are going Democratic. And if the Republicans alienate the entire Latino base, these people are really going to go Democratic.