Executive Disorder

The Real Problem With Obama's Immigration Announcement

The fence marking the border between Mexico and the United States is seen in the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, May 23, 2014. Jose Luis Gonzalez / Courtesy Reuters

With the Republican takeover of Congress clouding the prospects for swift immigration reform, U.S. President Barack Obama is poised to issue an executive order that will provide temporary reprieve for five million undocumented immigrants, removing the threat of deportation and authorizing work permits for many of them. Among likely measures in the order are an extension of the cutoff date from June 2007 to January 1, 2010, for eligibility to stay in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the provision of safe harbor for the parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents. The first initiative could help a million people and the second between 2.5 million and 3.3 million people. Obama is also reportedly prepared to provide thousands of new visas for high-tech workers, to redeploy immigration enforcement officers and resources from the nation’s interior to the border, to revise the controversial Secure Communities enforcement program that many blame for the record level of deportations under this administration, and to consider measures to help the hundreds of thousands of unauthorized long-term agricultural workers who live in the United States now.

At the same time, the White House plans to focus on deporting convicted criminals, those who present a threat to national security, and recent border crossers, including the unaccompanied minors and families who flooded the southern United States last summer. In addition, his plan to increase family detention for recent arrivals continues apace.

Although Obama’s order will allow immigrants to emerge from the shadows, it will not modify their legal status or provide permanent relief. That is, this will not be a pathway to citizenship. Obama’s successor can easily retract his policy. A substantive and permanent change would have amounted to lawmaking, a task reserved for Congress—although not one Congress has been able to carry out on immigration. Last year, a bipartisan group of eight senators introduced comprehensive immigration reform legislation. It passed the Senate by more than two-thirds majority, but resistance from

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