Congress’ inaction led President Obama to take action in order to build more accountability into the system’s immigration enforcement policy, especially in regards to unauthorized immigrants being allowed to stay in the United States and more comprehensive and punitive action for those who are not.
“When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half,” said President Obama Nov. 2014.
The first of President Obama’s actions regarding immigration is a move to strengthen border security. This includes an increase in patrol resources and a centralization of command. Advocates hope that this move will increase the likelihood that anyone attempting to cross illegally into the United States will be both caught and deported.
The second aim of the presidential action is changing who will be deported. Enforcement will target national security threats rather than families, students or otherwise non-threatening immigrants. An attempt to increase the number and availability of visas for recently graduated students will supplement this reform. This move gives 4.3 million unauthorized immigrants protection from deportation while leaving approximately 5 million at risk to be deported.
However, the protection from deportation is not part of any kind of process allowing for attaining citizenship.
The third aim of the President’s immigration reform is accountability. One aspect of this is the implementation of criminal and national security background checks. This will result in unauthorized immigrants who have been living in the U.S. for more than five years being mandated to pay taxes. Also, these individuals will be safe from deportation for three additional years. This exchange of taxes for deportation immunity is expected to produce approximately $2.8 billion in payroll taxes for the U.S. government.
The Department of Homeland Security was unintentionally swept into these debates.
On March 3, Congress passed a bill that will fund the department through September. The bill does not come with a requirement for the Obama administration to end the executive actions regarding immigration as originally proposed. The failure of the House of Representatives to pass this bill would have resulted in a failure to fund the Department of Homeland Security.
Republicans originally planned to use the funding as a tool to coerce the Obama administration to postpone the executive actions regarding immigration reform. However, as time ran out, House Republicans relented.
None of this is to say that the Obama administration’s immigration reforms will be implemented without question.
In fact, a federal judge in Texas has already taken legal action to stop the protection of certain unauthorized immigrants from deportation. The administration could request a dismissal of the Texas judge’s decision, which may lead to additional action by the court.
An argument in support of the President’s executive actions include the executive power that the office gives him. Additionally, the administration has made it clear that these actions are only necessary as a result of Congress’ failure to take action on the country’s immigration problem itself.
Critics of the administration’s action on immigration argue that Obama is exploiting the power given to him by Congress in a way that defies lawmakers. Additionally, they argue that taking away the threat of deportation for so many unauthorized immigrants could be seen as a kind of reward for what they deem bad behavior. Other critics worry that this executive action that seems to defy Congress and its power will only serve to discourage cooperation in the future.