The New York Times is reporting that President Obama may issue executive orders next week to help 5 million undocumented immigrants and refocus the activities of 12,000 immigration officials.
Citing administration officials, The Times states that one feature of the legislation would grant work authorization to the parents of US citizen or permanent resident children. There is debate as to whether this benefit will be limited to people who have been in the US for 10 or 5 years.
According to the paper,
"Mr. Obama’s actions will also expand opportunities for immigrants who have high-tech skills, shift extra security resources to the nation’s southern border, revamp a controversial immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities, and provide clearer guidance to the agencies that enforce immigration laws about who should be a low priority for deportation, especially those with strong family ties and no serious criminal history."
The Washington Post reports that Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), two of the most vocal proponents for immigration reform, began circulating a letter of support on Wednesday that lays out the economic, political and legal arguments that they hope Obama's allies will be making on his behalf once he takes action and begins facing Republican criticism for doing so. A full draft of the letter is below.
Dear Mr. President:
It is extremely frustrating that Republican leaders in the House refused to allow a vote on the bipartisan immigration reform bill the Senate passed last year. Even today, if Republican leaders allowed a vote, the bill would pass. But they won’t.
When Republicans blocked legislation, your pledge to use Presidential power under existing law to improve our immigration system gave us hope. Without such changes, our economy will continue to suffer and families in our communities will continue to be torn apart.
Although we were very disappointed when you postponed action until after the November election, we were encouraged last week when you reaffirmed your promise to act before the end of the year.
We hope that your actions will prevent the separation of undocumented family members of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and DACA beneficiaries and offer protection to others who have long worked in the United States and have established strong ties with our communities. We further hope that they will make our immigration enforcement efforts more sensible and humane.
Bold and meaningful executive action will provide a boost to our national and local economies. It will strengthen communities and promote family unity. It will help the government focus limited enforcement resources on those who pose a true danger to the public. And by providing an opportunity for millions of undocumented immigrants to register with the government—provide detailed biographic information, undergo criminal background checks, demonstrate continuing compliance with tax laws—it will protect American and immigrant workers alike by reducing the threat of exploitation and abuse.
The legal authority for taking executive action is clear and substantial. Just two years ago, the Supreme Court under Justice John Roberts reaffirmed that the administration retains “broad discretion” to decide “whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.” Arizona v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 2492, 2499 (2012). And executive action in this area is anything by unprecedented. In fact, every past President, starting from President Dwight D. Eisenhower more than half a century ago, has used such authority when dealing with similar issues regarding the national interest.
Like us, you have heard Republicans warn that any actions you take will “poison the well” and prevent them using their upcoming majority in the Senate to address our broken immigration system. However, for the past two years it was not Senate Democrats that blocked much-needed legislation, it was House Republicans. That obstacle to sensible immigration reform still remains. Let us also not forget that congressional Republicans previously blocked reform in 2006 and 2007.
As you said last week, “What we can’t do is just keep on waiting. There’s a cost for waiting.” That cost is measured in the tens of thousands of parents of U.S. citizen children who are deported each year. It is measured in the emotional price children and DACA recipients pay worrying about whether their parents will come home at the end of the day. Our national security suffers whenever we spend precious enforcement resources on hardworking immigrant families, rather than on criminals and those who mean our communities harm. And American workers’ wages and working conditions are consistently undermined as long as millions of immigrant workers are working in the shadows and off the books. We agree with you, Mr. President. We can no longer afford to wait.
As you have said, it is ultimately the job of Congress to reform our broken immigration system by enacting legislation. But by failing to do their job—and repeatedly interfering with your efforts to do your job—congressional Republicans threaten to take our immigration system hostage and preserve a status quo that everyone agrees is unacceptable. Their failure to act must not inhibit your commitment to governing.
We will stand with you as you take bold and meaningful action, consistent with existing law and historical precedent, to protect American families, strengthen local communities and grow the economy.
Elaine Martin has been practising US and global immigration law since 1997. She is an immigrant herself (from Ireland), so has a special understanding of the legal and emotional challenges involved in relocating to a new country.