6 Questions About Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The week leading up to President Barack Obama’s announcement of his plans for taking executive action on immigration has been a rough one, with politicians in the Capitol speaking harshly in expectation of the controversial statement. Now that his speech has been given and his intentions made public, there are a few worthwhile questions worth considering regarding his choices, the executive decision, and its effects.

First things first: What action is Obama taking?

The president spoke at length about some of the controversies and concerns that his actions were bound to bring up, but first let’s take a look at the bare bones of the matter with the three main items on the agenda.

These included increased border protection, a measure both Republicans and Democrats can get behind, but the common ground may end there. His second move would be to “make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed,” and his last, which he himself admitted “generates the most passion and controversy” was a way to allow undocumented illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally without fear of deportation at every turn.

He was careful to outline who this would apply to: only those who had been in the U.S. for at least five years or have children who are citizens or legal residents, go through a background sans criminal record discovery, agree to pay taxes, and register.

Does he have the power to do this?

Controversy over whether or not he has the power or the legal capability to pass an executive order on immigration has been one of the largest issues, aside from what Republicans call “amnesty” and Obama calls “accountability.”

Democrats and the Obama administration have joined the president in justifying his effort by saying he’s doing nothing more than what other presidents — Republicans and Democrats alike — have done during their own presidencies.

“The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic President for the past half century,” Obama said. Senate Democrats tweeted the following in support:

And, indeed, many of us recall the many criticisms of George W. Bush which said he was overstepping his power and overusing executive actions. Republicans take a different view of Obama’s activity, in line with the impeachment rhetoric from earlier this year, arguing that he is badly overstepping his bounds.

Sen. Rand Paul spoke on this with Fox News, arguing that Obama had said “22 times previously that he doesn’t have the power to legislate on his own with regard to immigration.” His statement was followed by a number of take-outs from previous speeches given by Obama, many of them appearing to back Paul up on the matter rather well.

“Sometimes when I talk to immigration advocates they wish I could just bypass congress and change the law myself, but that’s not how democracy works,” he said in one of the clips. The president would probably argue that he’d made that statement in 2011, and that after three years of waiting for effective immigration legislation from Congress, he’d followed along with the preferred pathway through democracy, and now that it’s failed, he’s moved on to another acceptable step. Either way, the president is likely to face more trouble from Republicans regarding overstep judging from House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) statement Friday on his lawsuit against the president over Obamacare.

Will executive action hurt bipartisan cooperation?

If this were a question of whether or not executive action needs to damage bipartisan chances, or should do so, the answer would be no. Obama approached this question, saying, “I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution … don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a dealbreaker on every issue.”

On the other hand, this is one of his first moves post-election, and it’s hardly the best way to restart and reboot a struggling relationship with Republican congressional members. Besides that, though he argues he’s simply done waiting for Congress to act, and that’s why he chose not to wait for the new Congress to work out legislation with their new majority, it’s more likely that he saw Democrats lose contro of the Senate and decided nothing the Obama administration could get behind would be passed and sent to him for signature.

Will it last? What are the risk?

This is one particularly concerning question — even for those who strongly support a pathway to citizenship, the peace of mind and family safety it offers immigrants, and pragmatic approach it constitutes in handling immigrants that have been living in the U.S. for so long and can hardly be deported en mass. The issue is that if President Obama leaves office and is replaced by a Republican, or even a Democrat who is critical of this decision, it can be removed.

Suddenly, previously anonymous, albeit struggling, illegal immigrants are on a long government list that now knows who they are, where they live, and other details that otherwise would not be known. Basically for this action to work, immigrants need to expose themselves without any guarantee that Obama’s safety measures for them would stick in the long term.

Now, is it likely that this list would be used to systematically deport all those individuals? No, it’s not. But the fact remains: There are some inherently questionable issues with this decision in terms of its longevity — something the president has fully admitted.

Which states will be most affected?

States whose populations will most be affected by this new action have been ranked by population of illegal immigrants by Pew Research’s Hispanic Trends Project. It finds that the top populations are found in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and New Jersey. The change will likely result in economic and employment changes for many, as well as new opportunities and freedoms for many residents.

Who benefits most?

According to a study from Pew Research, illegal immigrants from Mexico are likely to be the most affected by Obama’s executive. According to the study, Pew reports two out of three of those eligible to be taken off deportation lists are from Mexico, 43% of illegal immigrants from Mexico compared to 23% of other nationalities. In total, the study predicts that 4 million would be eligible for a three-year work permit and deportation deferment.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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