14 November 2014

Family Fairness, Then and Now

Back in early October, The Hill reported:

Congressional Republicans are outraged that President Obama may take executive action on immigration reform after the mid-term elections—perhaps by deferring deportations and providing work authorization to millions of unauthorized immigrants with strong family ties to the United States. However, past Republican presidents have not been shy to use the White House’s power to retool immigration policy. In fact, Obama could learn a lot from presidents Ronald Reagan’s and George H. W. Bush’s executive actions to preserve the unity of immigrant families, and move past Congressional refusal to enact immigration reform.
After President Reagan signed the 1986 immigration reform law, people noted that it could apply to some members of certain families but not all, thus putting the US government in the position of splitting up families. Advocates like the US Catholic bishops argued that the government should take care to prevent that, but bills went nowhere in Congress. In 1987, therefore, Reagan’s Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner announced the agency was “exercising the Attorney General’s discretion” to defer deportation for many illegal immigrants.

Immigrant advocates worried that still left many families at risk. Legislation once more stalled in Congress. In February 1990 President Bush used executive action to implement the provisions of a bill that the Senate had passed overwhelmingly and the House hadn’t acted on. Bush’s INS commissioner explained the “family fairness” policy by saying, “we can enforce the law humanely. To split families encourages further violations of the law as they reunite.” The administration estimated that action would affect 40% of the illegal immigrants in the US at the time.

Today the Obama administration faces very similar challenges: keeping families intact, not coming down hard on children, bringing productive members of American society out of the shadows, a Congress too divided to act. The US people granted President Obama executive power in the 2008 and 2012 elections, which clearly includes the Reagan and Bush administration precedents. So far Obama has issued fewer executive actions than his recent predecessors.

And yet top Republicans in Congress are now saying that if President Obama uses the same executive power as Presidents Reagan and Bush to address the same problem, that would justify either shutting down the federal (again) or impeachment (again).

No comments: