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Last week, 22 U.S. Senators urged President Obama to grant administrative relief to qualified DREAM Act students. The response from the Obama administration’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Munoz told Univision that Obama will not grant this relief “for a group of people on a large scale.” Today, the White House reported that the President is hosting a meeting to discuss immigration reform “with a broad group of business, law enforcement, faith, and current and former elected and appointed leaders from across the political spectrum.” According to AP, that group includes New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
AV’s Maribel Hastings examined this issue in her latest column at Univision titled, Immigration Relief: Does the President have the Authority? Her conclusion: Yes, he can.
It is true that the president can’t create a new immigration status without Congressional authorization. However, the executive branch could provide relief to certain groups within the universe of 11 million undocumented people, citing the justification for doing so-for example, for national security, economic, or humanitarian reasons.
“Deferred action” includes a stay of deportation and (potentially) the opportunity for a work pemit. It DOES NOT provide firm legal status and can be revoked at any point.
Large-scale administrative actions aren’t common; that’s why the White House insists that the only reasonable solution is legislation. But as Marshall Fitz, Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress (CAP), explained on a press call, what the senators are asking for in this letter is for the president to “execute the authority he already has, which is firmly established and is frankly indisputable.”
In the meantime, the administration can also improve the system of granting deferred actions on an individual, case-by-case basis, by establishing standards to make the process uniform, quick and effective.
The administration can also use their best judgment in prosecutorial discretion to focus enforcement on immigrants who pose a genuine threat to our communities and to national security.
Even though the administration swears that it is only deporting “the worst of the worst”, in practice their “priorities” are laxly enforced. Any person can enter removal proceedings-and people in proceedings because of paperwork irregularities are treated like any other criminal.
To sum up: as long as there is no immigration reform available, the administration can opt to focus its operations on real criminals-not on fathers and mothers, or young people who didn’t even decide to come into the country without documents.
Furthermore, the president can give administrative relief to (for example) these young people–even if doing so would require an act of political courage like few we’ve ever seen, and even it will undoubtedly enrage the anti-immigrant movement like little we’ve ever seen, either.
Will it happen? I wouldn’t bet on it. I hope I’m wrong.