Immigration reform was one of President Barack Obama's goals as he entered the White House for his first term. That didn't get done in the first term which made it more vital for the President to attack the issue in his second term. This paper points to the problem, the potential solutions, and the gridlock in the U.S. Congress that has prevented the problem from even being serious addressed let alone a solution found.
Why are there an estimated 11.7 million illegal Latino immigrants living in the United States? Part of the reason there are so many are here (mostly from Mexico) is that the U.S. / Mexican border is not secure, and never has been. Nevertheless, the progressive view of this issue is that the nearly twelve million immigrants living and working here deserve to have a path to citizenship, and that has been part of the difficulty in getting reform passed in Congress. The right wing view of this issue is that offering a program through which illegal immigrants may become American citizens amounts to "amnesty"; and the far right wing view is that these 12 million immigrants should be deported.
The Economics - Background
Meanwhile, the economics of the situation calls for reforms (rather than deportations) because illegal immigrants make huge contributions to the American economy. Adam Davidson writes in The New York Times writes that first of all, on average, family income in the U.S. is "increased by a small, but clearly positive amount, because of immigration" (Davidson, 2013). The chief actuary for the Social Security Administration (Stephen Goss) explains that undocumented workers put about "$15 billion a year" into Social Security through payroll taxes (Davidson, p. 3). In the past twenty years or so undocumented workers in the U.S. have contributed about $300 billion, or about ten percent of the $2.7 trillion that is in the Social Security Trust Fund (Davidson, p. 3).
It is true that undocumented workers do "impose a substantial net cost to state and local governments…[through] public assistance, schools and medical care"; however, the financial value of the benefits "…far outweigh the costs" (Davidson, p. 3). The Center for American Progress suggests that deporting most undocumented immigrants would drain $2.5 trillion" from the American economy over ten years (Burns, et al., 2013). On the other hand legalizing those 11.7 million undocumented workers would add "…at least $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy over 10 years" (Burns, p. 7). During the George W. Bush Administration the President reported that immigration adds $37 billion to the American economy annually; and there would be up to $5.4 billion "in additional net tax revenue nationally" (Burns, p. 7).
U.S. Senate Passes Immigration Reform -- U.S. House of Representatives Balks
Perhaps they were responding to various polls that show a clear majority of Americans support giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship -- up to 81% support a path to citizenship in a CNN/ORC poll; 78% in a FOX poll; 77% in a CBS News poll -- but in any event the U.S. Senate passed a wide-ranging immigration reform bill. The vote was 68 to 32, with 14 Republicans joining the majority. The participation by Republicans is significant because Republican leaders vowed on the very day Obama was inaugurated that the GOP leadership would present "…united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies" (Beinart, 2014). And "If Obama was for it, we had to be against it," said former Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich (Beinart, p. 1).
As proof that the Republicans actually set out to shoot down every Obama proposal and all his legislation, "…every Republican in the House voted against Obama's stimulus package," Beinart wrote, albeit the stimulus package brought the country out of the deep recession, the housing market has rebounded and unemployment is far below what it was after George W. Bush left office. Every Republican in the House voted against the Affordable Care Act, and several other pieces of legislation as well.
The bill was not even close to "amnesty" (that conservatives have been fond of calling it); in fact it offers a chance for undocumented immigrants to become citizens after service to the U.S., after learning English, and other provisions, in up to 13 years. It would have allowed an undocumented worker to get a green card in 5 years after passing certain tests and other measures. Yes it passed the Senate, but Speaker John Boehner refused to bring the bill up for a vote in the House. Why did Boehner decide not to bring the bill up for a vote (even though polls showed it would likely pass easily)? Was it because he just didn't want to...
Moreover, because of the propaganda put out by conservative media (Limbaugh, Hannity, et al.) that a vote for the reform bill would be like "giving amnesty to those who immigrated illegally" (Clement). Among Republican voters, 60% said they would be "…less likely to vote for a candidate who supported a path to citizenship" (Clement). Is this because of institutional racism against Latinos? It's hard to tell, but now that the Senate is a majority Republican, Obama vows he will take executive action to get reforms accomplished because he knows the Congress isn't likely to support him now.
What are Executive Orders?
Article II of the U.S. Constitution gives presidents "a grant of executive power" that has been the legal basis for presidents to use their authority when Congress would not act on a particular issue. Congress doesn't have to approve executive orders, and it cannot overturn an executive order (CNBC, 2014). Of course Congress can pass legislation overturning an executive order, but the President can veto that legislation. President Abraham Lincoln used an executive order to issue the Emancipation Proclamation; President Harry Truman used an executive order to integrate the Armed forces in 1948; and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson used executive orders to "bar racial discrimination in federal housing, hiring, and contracting" (CNBC). George W. Bush issued 291 executive orders; Obama so far has issued 193.
Is Obama within his Constitutional Authority?
If the President issues an executive order to "…grant work authorization to any unauthorized immigrant" he is legally using his Constitution authority; the Immigration and Nationality Act passed in 1986 and signed by President Reagan allows for this (Costa). But does Obama have the authority to push through the same immigration reform act that the Congress passed in 2013? Probably not, though he does have "broad legal authority to act on immigration reform" (National Immigration Law Center). Hence, the executive orders he issues will likely include specific acts (like slowing down the deportation of illegals or allowing work permits for certain immigrants) rather than the entire bundle of benefits that would have come into play had the House passed the reform bill in 2013.
Who are the political players and what is their position?
The incoming majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have "warned Obama that his acting alone on immigration would spoil chances for bipartisan agreement on other issues in the new GOP-controlled Congress" (O'Keefe, 2014). Obama has replied to the GOP leaders that he had already "…waited almost two years for congressional action"; and though he didn't say it, why would Obama assume that there would be more cooperation now than before? (O'Keefe). The White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there is one move the GOP could take that would keep Obama from issuing an executive order, and that to have the House pass the Senate bill -- "then the president wouldn't take executive action" (O'Keefe).
In conclusion, what will be the outcome? I believe Obama should and will act unilaterally on several points that are supportive of giving undocumented immigrants a chance to work and stay in the country -- and perhaps have a path to citizenship. The GOP may scream and yell, but the public will support the president in most cases, as polls have shown that people want immigrants to have a chance to become citizens.
Beinart, P. (2014). Waiting for Republicans to Act on Immigration Is Pointless. The Atlantic. Retrieved November 13, 2014, from http://www.theatlantic.com.
Burns, M., Groch-Begley, H., Shere, D., Tone, H., and Uwimana, S. (2013). 10 Myths
Conservative Media Will Use Against Immigration Reform. Media Matters. Retrieved November 13, 2014, from http://mediamatters.org.
Clement, S. (2014). Immigration reform is super popular. Here's why Congress isn't
Listening. The Fix / Washington Post. Retrieved November 13, 2014, from http://www.washingtonpost.com.
CNBC. (2014). Executive orders coming? Here's how they work? Retrieved November
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