From the perspective of immigration reformers, Tuesday’s election is unlikely to change the gridlock that has stymied immigration reform for more than 15 years. Since at least 1998, there has been bipartisan agreement that our current immigration system is broken and that Congress must act to fix it. Since then, regardless of who has controlled Congress or the White House, the country has been waiting for the political stars to align in such a way as to make immigration reform a reality. In the meantime, families have been torn apart and our economy has been denied a powerful tool for innovation and entrepreneurship. The reason is clear. Too few of America’s lawmakers have the courage to lead on immigration and too many are content to play politics with this critical issue.
Despite the threat (and likelihood) of political tantrums from those who have consistently blocked reform, the most likely catalyst for change on immigration at this point is bold, decisive leadership by the President of the United States, who re-affirmed yesterday that he would “take whatever lawful actions I can take” by the end of the year.
President Obama can and must show the way forward by using the tools at his disposal to fix as much of our broken immigration system as he can, and to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants who have built their lives here and contribute to our society and economy, but have no means of attaining legal status under our outdated immigration system.
Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, also made a call for the President to take executive action on immigration reforms:
The President needs to take executive action to support immigrant rights. But he also needs to take action on immigration to ensure the rights of all of us.
You see, in our country today, nearly 12 million people, and 8 million workers, are struggling to support their families without the protection of law. That is unacceptable. And it doesn’t just put immigrants at risk, it puts all people who work for a living at risk by driving down the standards that protect every one of us.
The AFL-CIO has been calling on the White House to halt unnecessary deportations since the spring of 2013 because we know that we are stronger when all workers stand together. And we know that executive action on immigration is connected to our larger struggle to ensure that all work has dignity.
So today I am here to renew our call for the executive branch to provide work authorization to, at minimum, all those who would be on a pathway to citizenship now if House Republicans had allowed a vote on the bipartisan Senate bill. In structuring his announcement, we believe that the President must include much-needed worker protections. And we know that now is not the time to expand guest worker programs that stifle wages and create a captive workforce.
It is well established that the President has the legal authority to end this crisis by granting temporary relief to a broad class of workers. It is also equally established that current enforcement of immigration law is at odds with our American vision of a just society and our values of family, hard work and fairness.
The America that the labor movement believes in does not criminalize people or deny them basic due process rights based upon their country of birth. We stand united here today because we know that we are all better off when we have fewer people behind bars, and because we find it disgraceful for private detention centers to profit from locking up our neighbors.
How the President implements immigration laws will be a major part of his legacy. The President’s job is to implement laws effectively, and the deportation crisis demonstrates that our immigration enforcement system is broken. When given a chance to fix it, Republican extremists refused. Now the President must act.
Executive action will be good for families and communities, good for workers and the economy, and good for the country. There has been enough consideration. The time for discussion, debate, and delay is over. Now, it is time to act.
In taking executive action on immigration, President Obama would be following in the footsteps of every U.S. president since 1956. Since Dwight D. Eisenhower, every president has granted temporary immigration relief to one or more groups in need of assistance. There are at least 39 such examples, including the family fairness policy of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, which protected the spouses and children of unauthorized immigrants who qualified for legal status under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Soon after the implementation of family fairness, Congress updated the law to keep families together.
If the elected House and Senate leaders who have been handed the gavel in 2015 are serious about breaking the 15-year log jam on immigration, then they won’t let the excuse of executive action stand in their way. There is no action that the President can take that will trump the need and opportunity for lasting, permanent reforms to our broken immigration system. After more than 15 years, the nation has waited long enough. It is time for courage and leadership. It is time to act.
For additional resources, visit the Immigration Policy Council’s resource page on Executive Action and Prosecutorial Discretion.
- Executive Grants of Temporary Immigration Relief, 1956-Present (October 2014)
- When Reagan and GHW Bush took bold executive action on immigration (October 2014)
- The President’s Discretion, Immigration Enforcement, and the Rule of Law (August 2014)