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Everything is in Place for Executive Action Now Except One Thing: Political Will

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Why the President and Democrats Should Lean In Now, and Not Wait Until Later

Despite the continued reports suggesting that the President may delay big executive action on immigration until after the November elections, the case for executive action from the White House gets stronger every day.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Everything is in place for strong executive action: the legal authority; good public policy; the moral imperative; and support for action from voters. The only question is whether the President will keep his promise and do it soon or whether he’ll bend under pressure from some scared Democrats and undermine another pledge to the Latino and immigrant community?”

Here’s why the President would be wise to keep his word and show political courage by leaning in to executive action now:

  • Legal Experts Agree: Executive Action is on Solid Legal Ground: Despite the criticisms from many on the far right,legal experts agree on one thing: the President has broad authority to act on immigration.  And as a new letter signed by more than 100 immigration law professors highlights, executive action from the President is not only well supported by the constitution by also beneficial to law enforcement officials.  Per the letter: “Some have suggested that the size of the group who may ‘benefit’ from an act of prosecutorial discretion is relevant to its legality. We are unaware of any legal authority for such an assumption…A serious legal question would arise if the administration were to halt all immigration enforcement, because in such a case the justification of resource limitations would not apply. But the Obama administration to date appears to have enforced the immigration law significantly through apprehensions, investigations, detentions and over two million removals. In conclusion, we believe the administration has the legal authority to use prosecutorial discretion as a tool for managing resources and protecting individuals contributing to the United States in meaningful ways. Likewise, when prosecutorial discretion is exercised, there is no legal barrier to formalizing that policy decision through sound procedures that include a form application and dissemination of the relevant criteria to the officers charged with implementing the program and to the public. As the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has shown, these kinds of procedures help officers to implement policy decisions fairly and consistently, and they offer the public the transparency that government priority decisions require in a democracy.”
  • Most of the 11 Million Have Longstanding Ties and Roots in the United States: According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, a large proportion of the undocumented community has deep roots in the United States. Per a recap of the report from David Nakamura of the Washington Post, “The number of immigrants living illegally in the United States has leveled off in recent years, but those who remain are more likely to have far deeper ties to the country than they did a decade ago… The study from Pew Research Center found that half of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants have lived here for at least 13 years and as many as 4 million have U.S.-born children.  The findings offer the most detailed portrait yet of the undocumented population and come as President Obama is weighing options about how he could use executive authority to remake his administration’s deportation policies amid mounting pressure from advocates to stem the breakup of immigrant families.”
  • Strict Enforcement-Only Measures Do Not Fulfill their Intended Goals:  A new study from NYU Law Professor Adam Cox and University of Chicago Law School Professor Thomas J. Miles on the administration’s Secure Communities program confirms what advocates have long understood: Secure Communities is a punitive enforcement program that does more to instill fear in the undocumented community than it does to actually prevent crime. Per a recap of the report from Kirk Semple of the New York Times: “Six years after the federal government opened an immigration enforcement program intended to improve public safety, deporting hundreds of thousands of people, many of them convicted criminals, a new study has concluded that the program has had ‘no observable effect on the overall crime rate.’ The finding ‘calls into question the longstanding assumption that deporting noncitizens who commit crimes is an effective crime-control strategy,’ said the study.”  As the professors add in an email to the New York Times, “If the folks deported through Secure Communities are as — or more — law-abiding than the average person living in their community, then deporting them won’t necessarily drive down crime rates.  It could even, in theory, cause crime rates to go up…The program was labeled ‘Secure Communities’ and promoted as a tool for reducing crime — especially violent crime — and making communities safer. Our paper shows that there is no support for that.”
  • Executive Action Could Be a Boon for the Economy:  Despite the economic arguments coming from anti-immigrant populists on the right, a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) finds that “the United States stands to gain a significant amount of new revenue from a deferred action program,” per the abstract of their report.  As Richard Cowan of Reuters writes of the report, “U.S. government tax collections would get a multi-billion-dollar boost if President Barack Obama issued an executive order giving temporary legal status to millions of undocumented residents, the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress said in a report on Thursday. The group, which has close ties to the Obama administration, estimated $21.2 billion in additional payroll taxes would be collected over five years under one scenario available to Obama, who has made immigration reform a priority of his second term.  That revenue increase is based on a scenario where 4.7 million undocumented immigrants receive temporary legal status, allowing them to get work permits. These immigrants live with at least one child who is either a U.S. citizen or undocumented.”
  • The Moral Imperative for Action is Compelling: Every day the President waits on executive action, his administration deports over 1,000 people, leaving thousands of U.S. citizen children, spouses, and other relatives behind.  As Lorella Praeli, Director of Advocacy and Policy for United We Dream, says, “It’s not just one more delayed promise.  It means people like my mother and millions more will continue to be vulnerable to deportation.”  Just take Seleste in Elyria, OH.  Right now, Seleste is fighting to keep her family together as her husband, Pedro—the primary caretaker of their 25-year-old son, Juan, who has severe cerebral palsy—awaits an answer on his request to renew his one year stay of deportation.  Or take Nini in Maryland.  Nini is a legal permanent resident, but her oldest daughter—who holds a Master’s Degree—is unable to find work as a result of her undocumented status and the fact that she’s too old to qualify for DACA.  There’s millions more stories just like these (see here for a compilation from America’s Voice of real life stories from people impacted by the administration’s harsh enforcement policies and calling on the President to act).  With a record of uber-enforcement and in the wake of Republican obstruction on legislation, action from the President is long overdue.
  • Democrats ”Don’t Get to Pick and Choose” When the Immigrant Community is Politically Beneficial to Them: While multiple stories have highlighted how Democrats are wary about how executive action will play in the 2014 Senate map, it is far from certain that an Obama move on immigration will become a defining issue in where Democrats are vulnerable – other than in Colorado, and in a positive way.  As Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post editorial board member, writes: “Unless someone can definitively show that executive action on immigration would lead to an electoral revolt that would cost Democrats control of the Senate (and imperil Obama’s presidency), Obama’s continued vacillation on this issue doesn’t make sense.”  Moreover, this change in tone from Democrats on immigration presents a broader credibility problem for the party amongst one of the fastest growing demographics in the country. As Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) explains, “Democrats have to come to understand that you can’t pick and choose what year you’re for immigrants. You can’t pick and choose when they’re good for you… Let’s not use them [immigrants] politically and exploit them one day politically and another day shun them. Let’s not turn our backs.”