By Reuben Schafir
Catlin Speak (Portland, Oregon)
Editors Note: This is one part of a two part debate series. Click here to see the opposing point of view.
On Nov. 20, in a speech to the American public, President Barack Obama announced his plans to change U.S. policy on immigration. Citing a lack of progress on immigration reform from Congress, the President declared that the changes would be made by executive order.
The President outlined his plan in three points: “First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over. Second, I’ll 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; Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.”
Though there has been vivacious debate over the enacted policies, much of the criticism of the President’s move has concerned his use of the executive order. Though it has a long history in American politics, the legal (and political) justification for the action is hotly contested. CatlinSpeak asked two staff members to discuss their opinions on the issue as opponent and proponent.
After a year and a half long stalemate between the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, President Obama decided to act on his own and use his executive power to sign executive orders that will enact laws to overhaul immigration reform. The President’s plan demonstrated proper use of executive power in a time of democratic dysfunction, and will improve the immigration system in the United States.
He addressed the necessity for his action early in the speech Thursday, blaming the House of Representatives for a lack of action.
“Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote,” said Mr. Obama.
The root question of the issue asks: Is there an issue? The answer is yes. While the number of undocumented people crossing the border fell between 2009 and 2012, a Pew Research Studyreported that as of 2012, there were 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U. S. While undocumented immigrants undoubtedly enrich our economy and culture, they do break the law. Everyone agrees that something should be done; however there are discrepancies when it comes to what needs to be done. Many conservatives say that they should be deported, but liberals and immigrant rights groups say they should be issued visas. The is much more feasible, and morally right.
Mr. Obama himself noted that it was unreasonable to assume the the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) will be able to deport all the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. It simply doesn’t make sense, particularly from a financial standpoint. In 2012, ICE deputy Director Kumar Kibble testified that the cost of deportation would be $12,500 per immigrant. That number multiplied by the current 11.7 million immigrants in this country means that the government would spend a stunning 146.25 billion dollars to deport every undocumented immigrant in the U.S. So there’s definitely a problem with undocumented immigrants, but no one wants to spend the money necessary to fix it.
Several problems with the whole issue of immigration in the United States have made this a high-profile, high-stakes issue.
Mr. Obama outlined the first, and really the cause of the problem, in his speech. It’s what every American has been (or should’ve been) thinking: Our system doesn’t work. “Our immigration system is broken — and everybody knows it,” said the President.
The second problem is the fault of democracy. For better or for worse, from the standpoint of this issue, the United States is a democracy. And so when an issue such as immigration finally is solved with a bipartisan solution in one branch (or piece of one branch) of government, it has one or two other parts of the government to pass through. In this case, the Senate passed a bill, with bipartisan support, on immigration reform but because of the democratic process, it never became law because Speaker Boehner refused to let democracy work, as he is (unfortunately) allowed to do.
The third problem is within the nature of immigration itself. As the President said, “we are and always will be a nation of immigrants.” However, as he also stated earlier in his speech “Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we’re also a nation of laws.” Of course these two come in conflict with each other when there is an illegal immigrant in question.
No one has come up with a solution that makes everyone happy. In fact, no one has come up with a solution at all, until now, when Mr. Obama decided to act using his power as President to change something.
Immigration reform was on a path to nowhere, and it had been on that path for a year and a half. Speaker Boehner continued to block a vote, yet refused to make a deal. Most people agree that the even with these improvements, the immigration system is not yet close to perfect. However, it’s a step.
It’s fair to say that the President has been pliable with Congress, and offered compromises with them last year to get a bill passed. He cut admitted in his speech that the bill “wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise. But it reflected common sense.” Yet despite his pliability on the issue, Mr. Boehner refused to hold a vote, and told the President that he would continue to refuse to hold a vote. Mr. Obama said that the Speaker should at least let the House vote on it, because “That’s how democracy is supposed to work.”
The plan, which pushed the buttons of the Republican leadership, was called a power grab by many conservative lawmakers, and Speaker Boehner said it was “damaging the presidency itself.” Conservative lawmakers as well as opponents of the President’s actions claimed that he was overstepping his constitutional rights, and that his actions were illegal. However, according to the Huffington Post, both President Ronald Reagan (R) and President George H.W. Bush (R) used their executive power to overhaul immigration (in both cases to defer the deportation of immigrants). Not only that, but President Obama has, on average, used fewer executive orders per year than any other president since 1901.
Not only has Mr. Obama been flexible and willing to compromise with Congress, he even said in his speech that if they were unhappy with his plan and use of executive orders, “I have one answer: Pass a bill.”
Using executive orders to begin immigration overhaul was not only legal, it was the right thing to do. Without this step, the country would still be in a stalemate while the number of undocumented immigrants continued to grow. By allowing long-term U.S. residents without criminal records, with children legally in the country and that pay taxes to stay in the U.S. temporarily, Mr. Obama has improved the lives of millions.
Opponents of inclusive immigration reform claim that undocumented immigrants are committing a vast majority of crime, or even just that they commit many more crimes proportionally. Undocumented immigrants make up 3.5% of the US’ population, says Pew Research, and make up less than 5% of state inmates (where most violent crime is prosecuted), meaning that undocumented immigrants commit almost the same amount of crime as any other citizens. Not only has the President improved the lives of many, it really doesn’t hurt anyone.
Mr. Obama’s plan isn’t perfect. That’s pretty commonly agreed upon. However, Congress has effectively done nothing to reform U.S. immigration policy, which it desperately needed. Furthermore, a large number of Republicans elected in the 2014 midterm election will mean that Congress is going to be getting a lot less done come January, when those new members will be sworn in. The current Republican leadership essentially forced President Obama to act using executive orders. Until the House of Representatives passes a bipartisan bill that will reform the immigration system, President Obama’s executive orders are the best thing for our country.