Joe Guzzardi: Americans to Obama: Enforcement not amnesty
With Congress mercifully away on its August recess, now is a good time to evaluate what’s happened and what might happen regarding the ever-contentious, endless immigration haggle. President Obama has more than once promised to issue a far-reaching executive order amnesty that would grant legal status and work permits to between 5-10 million aliens. While preparing his new directive, Obama defends himself by claiming that the immigration system is broken and that the House of Representatives is dysfunctional. Obama has to move, he says, because Congress won’t.
If the immigration system is broken, as advocates for more immigration are so fond of saying, then the federal government has no one to blame but itself. Since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act passed, efforts to enforce the law have been few and far between. IRCA promised that, in exchange for amnesty for 2.5 million aliens, the border would be secured and internal enforcement stiffened. Amnesty happened; enforcement didn’t. As a result, the illegal immigration population soared from zero (after the 1986 illegal immigrants were legalized) to today’s 12 million. Additionally, dozens of visa categories have been created during the last 25 years, which ease entry and grant permanent residency for millions more. The U.S. accepts nearly 1 million legal immigrants every year, a fact rarely mentioned when Congress debates immigration.
When the House refused to take up the massive Senate bill passed last year, it was doing its job, not shirking its responsibility. Obama’s response to an unconvinced House should be to work harder to reach an accord, which would mean compromising and pushing the Senate to bend also, something neither appear disposed to do.
Instead Obama, for political reasons, may opt for an executive power grab. Obama perceives that a huge amnesty would energize his Democratic base, especially Hispanic voters and could put the House back in play for the November mid-term election. By giving legal status to millions of illegal immigrants, Obama may even prompt the House to begin impeachment hearings, something critics think the president wants to help him further gin up his base.
In 2012, an Obama executive action gave deferred action from deportation to some young illegal immigrants, a policy known as DACA. Earlier, the House had defeated DACA. Obama’s unconstitutional DACA benefited comparatively few illegal aliens. And because the approximately 600,000 who gained legal status represent a relatively small percentage of the total illegal immigrant population, most Americans reluctantly let Obama’s pardon of them slide. But 5 million plus work permits during a period of high American unemployment is a whole different story and represents an executive overreach so grave that the House might be forced to impeach.
Obama has on multiple occasions insisted that the Constitution doesn’t allow him to unilaterally change the law. In 2011 when he addressed the National Council of La Raza, Obama said: “I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books...Now I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the [immigration] laws on my own...That’s not how our Constitution is written.”
Suddenly though, Obama has changed his mind even though an executive order pardon for illegal immigrants would, like DACA, send another welcoming message to would be aliens: If you can get to the U.S., eventually you’ll be legalized.
Recent Reuters/IPSOS polling found that 70 percent of Americans think that illegal immigration threatens the nation’s customs, economy and ultimately its sovereignty. Americans message to the president is clear: Enforcement, not amnesty. The next few weeks will tell if Obama got the memo.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow.