The following post was submitted by Alex McHugh, a student at American University in Washington, DC. Alex served as an SFL Campus Coordinator from 2011-2012.
The President has made another announcement! I feel a little more like a feudal commoner every time one of these news items passes across my computer screen. A decree! We shall gather in the village square and hear the words of our king president! And here I thought I lived in a country where the decrees of the commander-in-chief were not law. But constitutional issues aside, I’m unsurprisingly not impressed by President Obama’s recent not-quite-executive-order about immigration. To be fair, this sort of agency-level policy change is technically within the bounds of presidential power. It’s Congress’ own fault for creating agencies under the executive with vague and open-ended goals that no one really has the power to fully control. But, I’ll place that aside and be a negative Nancy about something else today.
Everyone seems to get very excited when the President announces that he nominally supports some popular “progressive” issue. I’m a little harder to please. I’d like to see action or even sincere support on issues that many Americans care deeply about. For those of you who support immigration reform, it seems like you’ll have to keep DREAMing with this latest reform, just as LGBTQIA activists still have to wait for real change from Mr. Obama on repealing discriminatory law. I claimed a short while ago that Mr. Obama’s support of gay marriage does nothing to mitigate the actual problem by leaving the states to pass further discriminatory law while appearing to care for the sake of donors. Rinse and repeat with immigration reform. By offering to change the way policy is applied for a while, it is my opinion that the Obama administration/campaign hopes to win pro-reform votes in November and then quietly go back to deporting more people than any previous administration.
First, let’s take a brief look at what is achieved by this most recent decree. A recent Cato@Liberty piece by Alex Nowrasteh breaks it down nicely. Not much will end up happening. Fewer illegal immigrants under 30 will be deported. Some will get two-year work permits. What does this mean? I’d argue that it means a cop-out for the administration: winning the support of pro-reform voters despite having probably the worst pro-immigration record of late without actually having to do anything. A pretty sweet deal! But what’s worse is that, in the long run, we have to consider what will happen to these workers granted permits when two years run out — conveniently after the election and first few months when most eyes are on the executive. So, how should we form our predictions for how a newly-re-elected President Obama would handle this transition? I’d say we look to the past. Which, as I mentioned before, is not a very pretty record. In fact, one prediction is that many will step forward to claim these permits rather than staying off-record. These are people who would normally be off-record, unregistered, and, to a degree, safe for the time from deportation. If they do step forward and claim permits, they will be very much on-record when those permits run out. Given the way this administration has acted, I don’t think it highly unlikely that some of them will not have their permits renewed after two years is up. Perhaps it might not be time to pull out the party hats just yet.
As an interesting aside, it came to my attention lately that immigration is a very old issue indeed. In re-reading the Declaration of Independence for a seminar recently, I noticed a line I’d never thought much of before. One of the grievances levied against King George was that “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.” Certainly we lived in a different and less-populated world then, but I still find it interesting that the founding fathers should be so open to immigration to the point of considering its obstruction one of the main reasons for which to commit justified treason. Ironically, some Americans today oppose the founding fathers’ ideal of free migration with almost as much passion.