As news coverage starts to focus on whether or not President Obama will soon announce a new DACA-style program to protect immigrants who would qualify for the Senate immigration bill from deportation, it’s worth recalling the time that President Bush presided over an executive action on immigration.
After the last push to pass legislative immigration reform failed in 2006-2007, the Bush administration mapped out a restrictionist, enforcement-heavy effort to tighten border security (adding border fencing and Border Patrol agents) and pressure employers to fire undocumented workers. Then-DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez announced the 26 measures at a news conference, after which President Bush released a statement asserting his right to take executive action on immigration. As Bush said in the statement:
These reforms represent steps my administration can take within the boundaries of existing law. Although the Congress has not addressed our broken immigration system by passing comprehensive reform legislation, my administration will continue to take every possible step to build upon the progress already made in strengthening our borders, enforcing our worksite laws, keeping our economy well-supplied with vital workers, and helping new Americans learn English.
Today, the Washington Post published an editorial arguing against President Obama using his executive authority on immigration. But back in 2007, when the President was a Republican, they recognized the President’s authority to change policy and priorities within the law. Here’s what they wrote in an August 2007 editorial:
The administration is right to try to streamline the visa program for seasonal agricultural workers to help provide growers with a reliable stream of legal workers; the changes would also increase protections for laborers. The Department of Homeland Security is right to extend to three years the terms of visas for professional workers from Canada and Mexico, who currently have to renew those visas annually. The administration’s plan also includes common-sense measures such as requiring government contractors to submit information about their employees to a federal electronic verification database to ensure the legality of their workforce.
No administration can be faulted for seeking to enforce the law, but the nation is saddled with a law that cannot work. The economy, as long as it continues to grow, will continue to attract immigrants, and they will come illegally if there is no other way. The administration acknowledges that an enforcement-only approach cannot possibly address the most significant immigration problems facing the country and is likely to exacerbate the problems already experienced by businesses and workers alike. It’s a sad commentary on politics in Washington that, by increasing the pressure for change, such problems may be reform’s best hope.