Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration: What’s it all about?

BY ADAM LUCENTE

Last week, President Obama announced several executive actions pertaining to illegal immigration. In short, the president granted several million people the ability to stay in the United States legally. While supporters argue that this move provides a partial solution to the issue in the face of Congressional failure to pass reform, others decry his move as unconstitutional and damaging.

What does the order mean, exactly? According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, it allows parents of citizens and legal residents to request “deferred action and work authorization;” extends the population of people eligible for this; and expands the “the use of provisional waivers of unlawful presence” to include children and spouses of lawful residents, as well as children of citizens; among other things. USCIS notes that these orders have yet to come into affect.

Reactions to the order are unsurprisingly mixed along partisan lines. Rockland’s Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-17) supports the president’s decision, and her reasoning is typical of others in favor. A press release dated November 21st on her website reads as follows:

“Action must be taken to ensure that qualified individuals who pose no risk to public safety should have the opportunity to receive work permits that allow them to contribute to our economy, pay taxes, and avoid fear of deportation as long as they are good standing members of our society.”

She goes on to say the order is “far from an ideal solution,” but a “good start” nonetheless.

In his speech announcing these orders, President Obama mentioned the GOP-controlled House’s refusal to pass immigration reform legislation that was passed in the Senate last year. He claimed that “…until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as president…”, indicating his justification for his unilateral actions. He further noted that his actions are “the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me,” which has since become the subject of much debate.

Of course, many disagree with the aforementioned reasoning. Firstly, there are concerns over the bill’s constitutionality. “The president was right the first time when he said that this is not the way our constitution is supposed to work,” American Enterprise Institute’s Ramesh Ponnuru tells the Rockland County Times.

Mr. Ponnuru points to Article One of the Constitution in defense of the unconstitutional argument. Section 1 reads “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.”

Republicans on the Hill, including the always vocal Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), share the belief that the president lacks the legal authority for this, as has been reported in The Hufington Post and other outlets.

But the president says past presidents have taken similar actions. In a sense, he is correct. In October 2014, the American Immigration Council released a report summarizing past presidential executive orders on immigration. According to factcheck.org, White House officials often cite those made by presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. Indeed, in 1987 President Reagan allowed over 100,000 families to stay, including Nicaraguans fearing persecution back home, according to the report. H.W. similarly “Deferred deportation of unauthorized spouses and children of individuals legalized under 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.”

But opponents of President Obama point out that these orders were in addition to pre-existing legislation, not in place of it. Ponnuru, in reference to Reagan and Bush’s actions, says they were “done to implement congressional legislation,” and were for “tying up the loose ends of the 1986 amnesty,” which AIC’s report says too.

Others oppose Obama on practical grounds. On CBS’ “Face the Nation”, Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID) said “We as Republicans don’t believe you should give amnesty first and talk about security later, which is what the Senate bill did,” referring to bill the president referred to in his speech.

Certainly the battle is not over. Allies and foes alike still hope for Congress to pass reform, as Congressowman Lowey does in her press release.

But since this order is so controversial, and admittedly does not solve the entire illegal immigration issue, what can and should happen in the future?

Ponnuru, for his part claims that we “ought to give up the fantasy of a comp reform,” instead aiming to solve the issue in a “step by process.” He points to an “amnesty limited to people who came here as children coupled with enhanced enforcement at the workplace and the border,” as an example, adding that time could then be taken to see if this was working before adding more legislation.

This is just one of a myriad of alternative proposals that exist in light of the president’s actions. The new Congress could also address the issue, although some believe the president would veto any legislation passed by Republicans.

For now, a possible lawsuit by the House Republicans notwithstanding, it seems President Obama’s actions will go forward. But the immigration battle is far from over.