Obama Executive Action on Immigration Not a Done Deal

Published on October 15th, 2014

By Joe Guzzardi
October 15, 2014

For months, President Obama has promised Hispanic activists and the Chamber of Commerce that he would grant executive amnesty to at least 5 million unlawful aliens. Obama most recently committed to act during the summer. Then, responding to pleas from endangered Democratic Senate incumbents to postpone his announcement until after the November elections, Obama agreed to the delay. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid also influenced Obama. Reid had read the polls, knew amnesty would kill the Democrats steadily shrinking chance to maintain Senate control. A Rasmussen poll found that 62 percent of Americans “strongly” oppose Obama’s amnesty scheme with only 26 percent supporting.

Based on his repeated promises and with the November elections only a few days away, it would seem that amnesty is right around the corner. But, the pro-immigration lobby should, to quote the old English proverb, remember that “there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.”

Predicated on the Republicans winning the Senate, here are three reasons that the perceived-as- inevitable Obama executive amnesty may not happen. First, dating back to 2009, Obama has broken his pledge to use his “pen and phone” on immigration several times. Obama has come under heavy fire from Hispanic groups, immigration lawyers and congressional advocates for his frequent waffling. At various times, Obama has said that can’t act independently because he’s “not a king,” or “an emperor,” and that the Constitution “constrains” him until Congress passes a new law. Trusting Obama, who has often shifted his immigration course, to make good this time is naively misplaced faith.

Second, if Republicans control of both chambers, the political landscape would change dramatically. Writing in the New Republic, Brian Beutler argues that while Congress would be unlikely to roll back Obama’s de facto amnesty, the president would still have two years remaining in his second term to preside over difficult issues like government funding and the debt ceiling. More than 200 presidential nominees await confirmation in the next Senate session which contentious Republicans could put into indefinite limbo. Among them are important positions like Surgeon General, Veteran Affairs chief financial officer, National Transportation Safety Board administrator as well as 53 district judgeships and seven positions on the Court of Appeals.

As Obama considers his post-election reality, he may decide that the wiser course is to again punt on amnesty instead of incurring more Republican wrath on immigration, and the inevitable stiffening resistance to anything the president proposes. Not that Obama would admit it, but despite endless hoopla about Obama as the “deporter and chief” with his supposedly “record level” of deporations, the truth is that few are deported from the U.S. interior. Former Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director John Sandweg told the Los Angeles Times that for non-criminal illegal immigrants the “odds of getting deported are close to zero, it’s just not going to happen.” Even without an official Obama amnesty, aliens would have little fear of being deported.

Third, other continuously deteriorating problems would make an Obama action on immigration ill-timed, extraordinarily craven, and intended to appease a relatively small special interest group. The Ebola and ISIS crises are deepening. Americans want travel bans, visa restrictions, border security and a more aggressive plan in Iraq—none of which are forthcoming. But a decisive executive amnesty would grievously and irreparably damage Obama’s legacy with everyone except most Hispanics who represent only 17 percent of the general population.

While I’d still list an Obama administration order to suspend deportations as possible, incessantly shifting ground conditions and political common sense may still prevail.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been nationally syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]

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