President Obama’s threat to the Congress i.e. the Republican controlled House of Representatives, that he would issue “executive orders” to alter existing immigration law unless the Congress passed his preferred version of a “comprehensive “ immigration reform bill has finally happened. The schedule for such action was of course manipulated to occur after the November mid-term congressional elections in a tacit acknowledgement that the voting public would probably disapprove and take out their displeasure on incumbent Democrats tied to his unpopular policies. He was right of course, but the temporary delay of his arbitrary and constitutionally questionable action was not enough to offset the broad judgment of voters that the Obama led direction of the nation was on “the wrong track”. The significant Republican “wave” of victories from state legislatures, to state governors including “blue states” of Massachusetts and Maryland, as well as the U.S. House and Senate, should have been a bright warning light to the President that he was out of touch with the voters. However, so cynically convinced in his own moral and intellectual superiority is Obama that the message did not penetrate his ideological certainty. This of course, was supported by the desperate messages of election results denial employed by his supporters in the press and the Congress. To the President and his supporters, the election outcome was not about the failure of Obmacare to achieve popular support, the failure of the 2009 “fiscal stimulus” to help with middle class job creation, the Administration’s extensive scandal list or his indecisive bungling of important foreign policies. It was, “geography”, low voter turnout, “not doing a good enough job in getting the Administration’s message out”, and of course, the “evil” Koch brother’s money.
Thus Obama’s post-election message was not one of humility but defiance. Concerned more with his “legacy” and continued popularity among core ideological supporters, he chose not to accept reality and wait to work with the new Republican controlled Congress to compromise on an effective immigration bill. Instead he challenged the Republicans in the House in the “lame duck” Congress which sits only until January, and in which the Senate remains in control of the Democrats and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, to concede their own vision of effective immigration reform. Of course, Obama knew that was not going to happen, and their refusal would provide a media based theatrical stage, for his executive action.
In policy terms, what exactly has Obama accomplished?
1. The new policy will affect an estimated 5 million illegals, most of whom are parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents. These individuals will be “shielded from deportation” and get three year work permits, which are renewable. To be eligible’ these parents must have lived in the U.S. for five years.
2. Also protected from deportation are any children brought to the U.S. illegally before Jan. 1, 2010.
Applicants in the two groups must apply and pay “administrative costs” and submit to a background check.
A third group identified only as “professionals”, or “talented entrepreneurs” will be given special status to remain without fear of deportation.
Obama’s executive order does not include a “path” to permanent residence or citizenship, nor does it provide eligibility for government benefits i.e. welfare, Obamacare. But in a late announcement the White House now says that those newly protected from deportation but still without permanent residence status or citizenship, will be eligible for Social Security benefits and Medicare.
This looks like another Obama policy that will create another huge bureaucracy with non-transparent rule making authority. It raises several important questions. If the three year work permits are renewable it creates an open ended and permanent condition of temporary legality for millions of people. If these “temporary” workers are convicted of crimes do they lose their protection from deportation? The same question applies to the millions of children brought illegally who are now protected from deportation, even as they reach adulthood.
Is it really feasible to conduct background check on 5 million people all at once. What will be the standards that define “pass or fail”. Will those that fail whatever standards are used for the checks be subject to deportation?
Obama is essentially eradicating the consequences of illegal entry into the U.S. for all immigrants, except a statistically few who fall into the category of “serious criminals” because besides granting work permits to the estimated five million parents of children, legal and illegal, he is ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to not “actively” try to deport the remaining six million illegals who don’t qualify for the new program.
In addition, ICE will end the Secure Communities Program” which linked federal and local authorities to identify illegals who entered state and local criminal justice systems. Now, only illegals “convicted of serious crimes” will be referred to ICE.
With respect border enforcement, only a vague statement of “additional resources” being made available was included.
Taken together Obama has through executive order cancelled the nation’s immigration policies and encouraged millions of additional immigrants, to enter illegally to take advantage of the next “reform” package.
Besides being bad policy, this President who came into office in 2008 promising to work across party lines through compromise and leadership has now culminated six years of blaming Republicans for “doing nothing” by not accepting his policies as stated, and by telling the new Republican majorities in both houses of Congress that he will act without them to “legislate” his preferred agenda. His empty assertion that if the Congress passes an “acceptable’ Immigration Reform before January 1, 2015, his executive action will no longer apply, fools no one. The divided “lame duck” Congress will not and cannot act on this, and in any case would not pass legislation that duplicates Obama’s blanket amnesty.
A Republican led immigration reform effort should be prioritized once the new Congress is convened. Recognition of the reality that eleven million illegal immigrants spread across the nation cannot be deported will have to be addressed. Republicans however have stressed that before concessions to the existing group of illegals is made, that first border control must be enforced so that whatever reform policy that follows does not stimulate another surge of illegal immigration. Granting legal residency to those already here makes sense but including a path to citizenship as a reward for entering the country illegally makes little sense. Of course, any Republican constructed reform legislation will face an Obama veto as he is content to perpetuate his quasi-reform for the last two years of his administration.
The political impact of his arbitrary action however will extend to attempts to deal with numerous other important public policy needs. As Speaker of the House Boehner has stated, the “well has been poisoned”. Obama has dismissed the constitutionally established powers of the Congress:
Article 1. Section. 1.
“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
Now a wall of mutual distrust and animosity has been overlaid on an existing level of ideological gridlock. Budgets, foreign policy and trade initiatives, environmental policies, infrastructure, minimum wage levels and national security policies will all feel the weight of Obama’s indifference and hostility to congressional prerogatives.