During a speech tonight, President Obama issued an executive order deferring deportations of an estimated five million people. “The real amnesty is leaving the system the way it is.” He mentioned that his approach would apply primarily to families. “Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families and works together to keep them together?”
Obama emphasized his record on border security. He noted illegal immigration over the southern border has been at the lowest point since the 1970s. After summarizing his record, he announced new resources would be available for border control.
Executive action applying to immigrants is not a new idea. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order designed to keep minors from being separated from their families through deportation. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush deferred deportation to an additional 1.5 million.
What’s important to note is that both Reagan and Bush were fixing “glitches” in a bill that Congress had already passed. Known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the law was designed to grant amnesty to four million undocumented immigrants who met certain criteria. After its implementation, only about 2.8 million took advantage of the plan.
Obama’s executive action is not an expansion of existing legislation like that of Reagan and Bush. Furthermore, the new executive order is not the first the president has issued regarding immigration. In 2012, he announced the children of immigrants who came to the country illegally could remain without fear of immediate deportation, known as “deferred action” that benefited 800,000 people.
With respect to the legality of the executive order, it is likely legal due to the prosecutorial discretion power held by the executive branch of government, as evidenced by actions of Reagan and Bush. However, this also means it will not likely be permanent and could easily be undone by a future president.
The scope of Obama’s executive order is quite large, estimated to affect nearly five million undocumented immigrants. Still, many reform groups remained dissatisfied with Obama’s overall record on immigration, as his administration has deported more immigrants than any other president.
Obama reiterated that he prefers a comprehensive immigration reform bill be sent to his desk, noting the Senate had already passed a bill in the summer of 2013 with bipartisan support. The president laid the blame solely on the Republican-controlled House, telling them to “pass a bill” if they wanted to overrule his executive order.
Republicans blasted the move. John Boehner mentioned that “The President has stated before he is not a king, but he sure is acting like one” with Mitch McConnell declaring “Congress will act.” Both parties clearly remain at odds with each other just weeks before the 114th Congress goes into session.