The White House communicated at the beginning of the year that it would be the year of executive action. President Obama would use the privilege of executive authority to circumvent Congress to give a shot to the arm of our anemic economic recovery. Indeed, since he was elected in 2008, many a Republican such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to defeat the President and his agenda, beginning with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and comprehensive immigration reform. Before the state of the union, I encourage the President to give executive action on comprehensive immigration reform prominence and make it a starting point for his year of executive action on the economy.
It makes sense because immigration reform affects virtually every aspect of our society, including the economy which the White House emphasized would be the focus of the President’s “pen” and “phone calls” engagement strategy. Credible studies from the left and right confirm a Congressional Budget Office report showing the net gain of immigration reform–increasing the labor force, capital investment, and over time, average wages. For strapped local governments, more workers mean an expanded tax base to fund schools, libraries, and the police force. With no entitlement reform in sight (and the addition of a new one in the form of the ACA), it helps the federal government fulfill its promise to our seniors of Social Security and Medicare.
Using his executive authority to grant reprieve to immigrants is not foreign to the President. He did it with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), even after repeatedly saying he could not act without Congress’ support. An astute politician, the President announced DACA after great pressure from the immigration advocacy community lead by the DREAMers as I write in Anatomy of an Immigration Debate: Presidential Carne Asada at NCLR. As they did at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) annual convention and White House-sponsored town hall meetings, grassroots organizers and DREAMers staged protests during the summer of 2011 which resulted in DACA pressing the pause button on deportations for millions of students and military servicemembers brought to this country illegally as children. DACA also placated a constituency whose numbers, clout, and social media savvy is growing. This political calculation paid off: Latino voters became the key member of the coalition that delivered re-election to the President.
While it is true that executive action is not a long term solution nor does it carry the force of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, it will free millions from the terror of deportation. Despite guidelines to deport only violent criminals, new arrivals, or repeat crossers, the deportation dragnet continues, ensnaring countless who don’t fall into these categories. A simple internet search and Instagrams, blog posts, and videos document the plight of torn families and neighborhoods due to the increased removals in the last five years. It is no wonder that to many Latinos, Obama is known as the “deportation President.”
To the Apologists who say it’s due to a Congressional budget already earmarked–in other words, you use it or lose it–I ask them to think about the estimated 5 million children said to have at least one undocumented parent and are one unscrupulous boss who calls La Migra rather than pay for work completed, one broken car blinker away from losing their mami or papi. It’s not just “the immigrants.” With our neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, and schools increasingly “mixed status,” chances are you, someone you know socially or work with, or their relative does not have her status in order.
The President now turns his focus not just to what he can accomplish in the remaining two years in office. He is laying the foundation for his legacy at a politically tricky time–the run up to the 2014 midterms and the 2016 general election. Executive action on immigration will not just boost the economy by legalizing millions, many who know no other country and who are already greatly contributing through their military service and attending college to become the professionals that start businesses. Acting on a hot button issue such as immigration is the right, it is the American thing to so.