This week Obama announced that he will pursue an executive order that will allow certain illegal immigrants in America to obtain “deportation relief.” This means that they will be able to apply for paper work which will prevent them from being deported for the next three years. In order to qualify for deportation relief an illegal immigrant must pass a background check showing that they have been in the US since 2010, are not criminals, and are either parents of a US citizen or were under 16 when they immigrated here. It is estimated that there are 4 to 5 million illegal immigrants currently in the US who meet these requirements.
This move hasn’t come out of nowhere. It’s the next step in a strategy that Obama has been following for years. It began when, to Obama’s dismay, his own administration was successfully deporting tons of illegal immigrants. In some years, and by some counts, Obama was deporting more illegals than any other president ever had. And between 2010 and 2012 Obama deported over 200,000 illegal immigrants who were parents of American citizens. Numbers like these would sound like success to many people. But not to Obama. He was horrified that his government was so faithfully executing the law.
Obama has been trying to fix this “problem” for years. In 2011 he issued a directive asking various federal immigration agencies to be more lenient on illegal parents. But a subsequent analysis of the behavior of these federal agencies suggested that they hadn’t actually changed their behavior. In 2013 Obama issued another memo saying the same thing.
Obama’s response to these failures were two fold. First, he pointed out that, as President, he couldn’t legally change immigration law on his own. He needed congress. Thus, when asked why he didn’t just stop deporting people he would explain that “The notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true.”
So, on the one hand, Obama realized that he couldn’t arbitrarily change the law without congress. On the other hand, he did it anyhow. In 2012 Obama instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy which allowed any illegal immigrants who immigrated here before they were 16 and before June of 2007 to acquire deportation relief and a work permit. In terms of its impact, the DACA was a lot less significant than Obama’s new executive order. It probably didn’t impact any more than 1 million illegals. It’s worth noting that this is basically identical to the polices proposed by the DREAM act, a piece of legislation which Obama supported but could not get passed. Obama did not let this legislative failure deter him. When congress failed to pass the bill Obama wanted he simply declared it law anyhow.
Thus, this new proposal is a long time coming. Obama tested the legal waters with the DACA and has been issuing memos trying, unsuccessfully, to get immigration officials to follow these policies for years. Obama’s new executive order isn’t a change in the general direction of his policies. But it’s a lot ballsier than what he has done in the past.
The Legal Consequences
Many people, including Barack Obama circa 2010, would claim that what the President is doing is illegal. His job is to enforce all the laws that congress passes. Not just the ones he likes. Obama has justified his actions be referring to powers like selective enforcement (and prosecutorial or enforcement discretion). Selective enforcement refers to the power of government officials to decide if and how to punish people that commit crimes.
Using selective enforcement to not punish criminals is only justified when it is consistent with the intention of the law and/or the public will. For instance, many police officers use their power of selective enforcement to choose not to punish people who commit minor traffic violations. But no one really cares. Most people, including law makers, think that it is fine that police officers don’t punish every person who commits a traffic violation. They trust the officer to make the right decision based on the unique facts surrounding the particular case at hand. This congruence with the law and with public will is key. Just think of its negation: government officials not enforcing laws even though the public and the creators of law demand they do so. This obviously puts far to much power in the hands of government officials and is contrary to the purpose of the division of powers that the United States is founded on.
Of course, sometimes there are grey areas. For instance, cops often let people with a little bit of weed go. Both citizens and law makers probably have mixed feelings about this. But hardly anyone feels like the police are just ignoring the public will and the intent of the law by not enforcing laws they don’t like. No one feels like cops are acting dictatorial. Rather, police are dealing with a situation in which the intent of the law itself is ambiguous.
Obama’s executive order is not a grey area. Polls show that the majority of American’s oppose it. The leader of the House of Representatives has condemned it. And the news is filled with people talking about Obama acting like a dictator. Obama has taken the trust that the public gives government officials and abused it.
Just consider the precedent it sets. Will Republican presidents in the future be able to chose not to enforce welfare laws, labor laws, and tax laws, that they don’t like? Can a Republican just decide not to prosecute people that don’t pay taxes? Are congress’s laws just suggestions for the President that he can chose not to enforce? This is obviously not how the US government is supposed to work.
Liberals will argue that Obama isn’t actually setting any new precedent. They will note that both George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan used executive orders to offer deportation relief to illegal immigrants. What such liberals miss is that neither Reagan nor Bush were acting in a way that was contrary to the intention of the law. The modern laws that the United States has against immigration are, for the most part, meant to stop ongoing waves of illegals coming into the country. As with any law, special circumstances may make carrying out that law to the letter contrary to the intention of the law. Both Reagan and Bush acted under special circumstances: they held off deporting people who fled communist countries and who would have likely been killed for being anti-communist had they returned. Reagan and Bush were not acting contrary to the intent of the law. When our immigration laws were passed the intent was not to help our enemies kill our (ideological) supporters. (Recall that this was during the cold war.)
Some deportation relief went beyond this. But it too was consistent with the wishes of congress. Reagan, who granted deportation relief in 1987, was just extending the amnesty bill that he had passed, with congress, in 1986. Basically, the 1986 amnesty bill legalized people who had immigrated here before 1982. But it didn’t necessarily legalize their children and/or spouses. Reagan postponed their deportation so that congress could legalize them as well. (Which it did.) In order to say that Reagan was acting contrary to the intent of the law you would have to say that congress meant to break families apart by legalizing the parents and not the children. This is obviously ridiculous. Bush, in 1990, began a policy of “family fairness” which also delayed the deportation of children of illegal immigrants who has already been given amnesty. Given that congress turned Bush’s policy into law within the year, it is obvious that he was correct in thinking that his executive action was consistent with the intention of congress. So no, past Republican presidents do not give Obama precedent for issuing executive orders that fly in the face of the law, the congress, and the public.
Consider also that Obama is not deciding to simply not enforce a law. Rather, he is deciding that some people will be punished for breaking the law and some people, who break the exact same law, won’t. Obama feels bad for illegal immigrants who are parents. So they won’t get punished. Obama feels less bad for illegal immigrants who did the American public the favor of not birthing a welfare baby. So they will get punished. Liberals normally call that inequality before the law. And they normally get pretty upset about it. Imagine a world totally contrary to our own in which police decided to selectively enforce the law so that they were less likely to punish whites for crimes than blacks. What do you think the same liberals that are supporting Obama now would say about that?
The legal implications of this action are truly frightening. The laws that congress passes are just suggestions for the President. He can chose to enforce them. But he doesn’t have to. And, in fact, he can chose whether or not to enforce them on a case by case basis based on how he feels about the people breaking the law!
The Demographic Consequences
Obama’s actions will likely have three main demographic consequences all of which will further America’s demographic decline:
First, Obama’s executive orders will lead young illegal immigrants to expect that if they sneak into America now they will eventually be eligible for deportation relief. After all, Obama initially granted deportation relief to minors who immigrated here before 2007. Now, three years later, he has raised that year to 2010. A reasonable expectation is that the US government will eventually raise that number to 2014. And so if you are a young Mexican today Obama has given you one more incentive to immigrate here illegally.
Secondly, Obama’s order might cause illegal immigrants to have more kids. Illegal immigrants might reason that the government is probably going to change the year limit for illegal parents in the future just as it has with minor illegal immigrants. And Democrats are making it increasingly clear that when amnesty does come it will be parents who get it first. So if you’re an illegal immigrant in America that doesn’t want to be deported, and some day wants to be a citizen, you should probably start having kids.
Thirdly, deportation relief will encourage illegal immigrants to vote. A recent study estimates that only 14% of non citizens in America are currently registered to vote and only between 2% and 6% of non citizens actually vote in US elections. Even these low numbers were estimated to possibly have election deciding impacts in certain races. But it seems likely that one of the major reasons that illegal immigrants don’t vote is because they are scared of being caught and deported. Obama’s executive order will likely encourage illegal immigrants on his deportation relief list to vote. Given that Hispanics almost always vote Democrat and half a million deportation relief eligible immigrants are in Texas and over 100,000 are in Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, and Florida, this could have serious consequences for US elections.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, Obama’s actions will create a list of millions of immigrants that Republicans will never deport. They probably won’t even be able to resist granting them citizenship. Think about it: why do Republicans normally say they oppose amnesty? First, because it will depress wages by increasing the supply of labor. But these people will have work visas and so will be already working. Second, because Hispanics commit tons of crime. But these Hispanics have gone through background checks and shown that they are not criminals. And third, because they broke the law and allowing them to cheat their way to the top of the immigration line isn’t fair. But Obama is making them pay a fine for their crime.
None of these excuses are infallible. Criminal background checks miss things. And the law doesn’t say that you can make up for illegally immigrating here by paying a fine. But this will make the standard republican arguments a lot weaker.
Of course, there will still be good reasons to oppose keeping these immigrants here. Increases in ethnic diversity are known to predict people trusting each-other less, having fewer friends, and being less happy. Moreover, Hispanics use welfare more than any other demographic group. They are less educated than whites, they commit crime more, contribute less to the economy, and have more out of wedlock births. And, of course, they are liberal. Hispanics have been breaking for Democrats in every election for the past half century. Polls show that, relative to whites, they are liberal not only on immigration but also on gun rights, gay marriage, abortion, and welfare. And hispanics are almost twice as likely as whites to say that they would prefer a bigger government with more services. So yes, there are plenty of reasons to support deporting the immigrants that will be on Obama’s deportation relief list. Ethnics diversity kills communities, Hispanics are a (relatively) low quality population, and they are going to hand the country over to the Democrats. But, for the most part, Republican politicians don’t have the courage necessary to say these things. And as a result, they won’t be able to articulate why it is that these immigrants should be deported rather than made citizens.