The GOP and Immigration Reform, and Obama and Executive Orders

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The GOP will control both the Houses of Congress come January 19, 2015.  Mitt Romney, in a massive shift from his 2012 presidential campaign position, says that one of the first things the GOP will do is pass some sort (unclear what exactly) of “immigration reform” and put it on the President’s desk in 2015.  Two things about this.

First, if Mitt Romney had said this during the campaign in 2012, we would be calling him President Romney today.  It is rather off of Romney to say this now, particularly since he is taking heat from the likes of Glenn Beck in doing so.  If Romney really believed this, one has to ask, did he have a change of heart? Or, is he cynically duping people into supporting GOP candidates, with no real intention to address a key part of our economic future as a country?

Second, what does “immigration reform” mean when used by Mitt Romney and the GOP today? Inspired by the classic line uttered by Inigo Montoya to Fazini in “The Princess Bride” when Fazini kept misusing the word “inconceivable,” “I do not believe that word means what you think it means.”

“Immigration Reform” to the many members of the GOP means exactly what Ted Cruz says it means, as reflected in his proposed amendment to the bi-partisan Immigration Reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013;

Cruz’s amendments would have (1) eliminated the legalization-first, security-later structure of the Gang of Eight bill while still creating a way to legalize those now here illegally; (2) increased certain types of legal immigration; and (3) removed what might be called the moral hazard of rewarding those who came here illegally with citizenship and federal benefits.

So, when the GOP talks about passing an “immigration reform,” it must be uunderstood that it will not be far-reaching, it will be punitive, it will create a second class of person in the U.S., and it will be a slow process to even obtain a work permit.  Because, anything other than deporting everyone is “amnesty.


As to President Obama and his approach to immigration reform, we can only say two words:  “screwed up.”  This phrase applies both to to his “plan” for executive action, and his delay in implementing executive action to “save” Democratic Senators from having to defend it on the campaign trail.

First, while it is always easy to have 20/20 hindsight, it is quite clear that Democrats lost the support of large numbers of Hispanics because of Obama’s failure to act, and what was seen by many Hispanics as a betrayal of their support for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  There were actually billboards in North Carolina (where Kay Hagan lost re-election by a very small percentage and where Obama won in 2008 and 2012 with massive Hispanic turnout), paid for by Hispanic advocacy groups urging Hispanics NOT to vote for Hagan.  To say the entire election turned on Obama’s betrayal of the Hispanic and Asian immigrant communities of his failure to press reform or executive action before the election would not be completely accurate, but it clearly played a part in a dismal turnout for what was an historical Democratic voting base.

Second, his plan for “executive action” is hardly an “amnesty”for 11 million people as some politicians have claimed, and more importantly, it is clearly still not ready for prime time.  In his first press conference post-election, Obama was clear that he WILL (Really This Time) issue “some” executive action on immigration, which he would be happen to undo if Congress passes “immigration reform.”  Do you see the problem here.  Neither side is actually using “immigration reform” in the same way.  And, Obama cannot actually “legalize” anyone to actual immigration status in the U.S.  He can give work permits based upon the parole authority Congress has given the executive branch (and which numerous president’s have used before), but he cannot give “amnesty.”


What do I think Obama will do?

Despite all the false starts, Obama has no choice but to issue an executive order or amend regulations, but he will do so AFTER budget discussion are resolved and Congress departs for they year, likely after December 11, when it appears the Congress will go home for the holidays.

First, I believe (and this is based on my analysis not actual administration promises) that Obama will give a limited work authorization to a relatively narrow group of undocumented workers.  He will do this by using the existing law, and if were smart it would go something like this.  The GOP wants all undocumented immigrant to go home. Of course, if they were all arrested by ICE and put into removal (deportation) proceedings, they would be allowed to go through the immigration court system.   At least 62% of undocumented immigrants have been in the U.S. for 10 years or longer. Current U.S. law, passed by a GOP Congress in 1996, says that if you have lived in the U.S. longer than 10 years, have a US citizen child, spouse or parent, and are a person of “good moral character, then you can apply for “cancellation of removal,” which comes with a work permit. They would NOT get any status, but the work permit could be used to get drivers licenses in most states.  People would come out of the shadows for the first time in 28 years.   Now, you are not likely to win that case (only 4,000 people a year can be approved), but the cases drag on for years because of the nightmare that is the immigration court system.  If Obama gives people who fit this definition a work permit (not status), he is doing EXACTLY what the GOP would do if they could arrest each of these folks, and Obama is getting their biometrics and data from them with no effort.   Now, I doubt Obama could spin this as good as me, and for sure the GOP would call this amnesty, but, it is the easiest win for Obama with the Hispanic community, and it is the easiest to justify.

Second, I believe that Obama will also issue regulations that will recapture unused immigrant visa numbers from past years for employment based immigrants waiting in the proverbial “line.”  This recapture will involve adding another 200,000 or so immigrant visas and making them immediately available. This would pay off big for businesses, particularly in high tech, whose employees wait more than a decade for a green card.   Again, this is defensible, as the visas were made available by Congress already and were only not used because of USCIS incompetence in handling immigrant (legal) visa processing.

Of course, he could do a lot more, but do not expect a President who has shown so little backbone on a HUGE variety of issues to do more than that.

And, finally, don’t forget that if Obama does these two simplest things, which he is legally allowed to do, the GOP will scream “impeachment” at the top of their lungs.

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Charles Kuck

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