By Joe Guzzardi
October 31, 2013
With only a handful of legislative days remaining on the 2013 congressional calendar, comprehensive immigration reform’s final yes or no outcome is still in doubt. In January, word leaked that the Senate Gang of Eight was working behind closed doors on a far-reaching bill that would legalize 11 million illegal immigrants and increase legal immigration by 20 million green card holders in the first decade. During the ten elapsed months, the pressure to pass reform has been intense. Advocates have staged multiple protests on Capitol Hill and in other major cities demanding that now is the time for immigration reform. Corporate supporters, including some of the 600 flown into Washington this week, threaten to withhold their contributions to legislators who don’t support reform.
Congress is reluctant, however. Many are split on whether eventual citizenship should be part of a final bill. Others realize that amnesty is unpopular in their home districts, especially with 20 million Americans unemployed. Even Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the chief Gang Republican voice this spring, has backed off. Saying there’s “no consensus,” Rubio thinks Congress should scrap the whole amnesty idea, at least for now. Instead, Rubio endorses the House piecemeal approach. What really motivates Rubio, however, is not his change of heart but rather the same concern that’s given pause to many in the House—fear of a primary challenge.
Nevertheless, the House has passed several immigration bills in their respective committees. They’re ready for a floor vote which could, in turn, lead to a dangerous Senate conference. House leadership, Speaker John Boehner, Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, have steadfastly refused to state that they won’t go to conference with the Senate. As long as the possibility of a conference looms, so does the chance of amnesty.
Assume for argument’s sake that the House doesn’t vote on immigration this year. Under those circumstances, the biggest wild card could enter the fray, President Obama. Would he unilaterally grant an administrative amnesty?
Obama is under fire from immigrants’ rights groups who demand that he end all deportations “today,” to quote National Day Laborer Organizing Network’s Marisa Franco. Hispanic lobbyists want Obama to extend his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order (DACA) to include the United States’ 11 million aliens. Last year’s DACA non-deportation order granted legal status to most young illegal immigrants.
In response, Obama says the blame for congressional inaction lies with House Republicans, and argues that although DACA is constitutional, broadening his order to include all illegal immigrants would not be.
In truth, Obama’s order was not legal. DACA conferred rights to illegal immigrant they’re not entitled to, namely work permits and protection from deportation. The United States president has no authority to not enforce the United States’ immigration laws. Pre-DACA, Obama admitted that he can’t “suspend deportations” because “there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.” Yet just a few months later, he deferred action on young aliens. Then, in August 2013, Obama again, without authority, broadened the categories of aliens he asked ICE not to deport. The president wants parents with minor children excluded.
Whatever Obama says today about immigration likely won’t apply tomorrow. Immigration reform’s fate may not be decided until the December congressional recess, at the earliest. Popular theory dictates that incumbents don’t want to talk about immigration during an election year. But during this year’s immigration debate, advocacy trumped conventional wisdom. With lots of money and plenty of energy, advocates could force the immigration battle into the 2014 primary season.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]