Perhaps the chattering class – cable news personalities (an apt term as they make their living exhibiting carefully developed dramatic attitude about the analysis of others) and political writers who knock off two eight-hundred word syndicated columns a week, trying to explain the excruciatingly complex in short snappy prose that ignores all the pesky details – has too much time on its hands. This is the week that President Obama will sign an executive order that will allow up to five million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation, or he won’t, and even if he does, no one knows the details yet – other than the Republicans will be outraged if he does. Their preemptive whining has been a bit tiresome – all that talk about impeachment and shutting down the government – run him out of office or at least shut the nation down until he reverses what he did, which he hasn’t done yet. Equally tiresome are all the reports that the old hands in the party, those who have been around for a few years, are telling everyone the Republican Party will do neither. They impeached Bill Clinton and it made him more popular and they lost a whole lot of seats in a whole lot of elections after that. And every time they forced a government shutdown, to get what they wanted, they didn’t get what they wanted, and the nation, collectively, decided they were dangerous jerks. That stung. They had to invent another crisis to get folks to forget what they’d just done. Luckily, the nation has a short attention span – but still, forcing a government shutdown has never made America say, gee, these guys are brave and noble and have solid principles. They didn’t like normal government services grinding to a halt. Air-traffic controllers are useful, as are federal food safety inspectors – the bright red raw burgers in that that shrink-wrapped package at the supermarket really should not contain too much fecal matter. Besides, Ronald Reagan and the first president Bush, the relatively sensible one, did that same thing – they used their authority to decide how to enforce the law and let many millions of harmless illegal immigrants stay here, because the government’s resources in these matters are limited – best to go after the bad guys. By analogy, cops don’t stop you for going thirty-six in a thirty-five-miles-per-hour zone. They’d have no time for nothing else. They have better things to do – like catch the asshole doing ninety, while texting, after drinking. Obama would be doing what is sensible.
That means the issue is what’s sensible, and that’s what the chattering class is talking about. It may not matter what Obama does. The issue is what’s sensible, and also politically advantageous – one must not alienate angry white voters, who always show up at the polls, or Hispanic voters, who seldom show up but are the fastest growing demographic now, and will make a big difference in the future even if only one in five show up to vote. There are a lot of them, and there will be more. There’s a lot to consider here. Obama may be goading the Republicans into doing something foolish, daring them to shut down the government or impeach him, because he knows that will make them look like fools, and they know it too and are having a hard time resisting the urge to do just that, because it would make their base happy beyond words, even if everyone else would give up on them. That’s a political calculation. Or Obama might try to finally keep his promise to the Hispanic voters who helped put him in office and are starting to write him off, and starting to write off the Democrats as they wrote off the Republicans long ago – another political calculation. Or Obama might be trying to do the right thing for the country, although that’s not often discussed by the chattering class. The politics of the thing are far more compelling. That’s what’s discussed on Fox News and MSNBC and what’s in the syndicated columns, and at the major websites of the left and right. Political issues have been raised. Those are addressed.
They should be, and a CNN contributor, Ruben Navarrette, addresses the issue of what Obama is up to:
Conservatives love to stir their flock by pushing the narrative that Obama is a staunch supporter of “amnesty” and that the President has always been in lockstep with immigration reform advocates.
That’s fiction. It’s been a rocky relationship. That’s because Obama belongs to that wing of the Democratic Party that hasn’t been interested in legalizing the undocumented and creating more competition in the job market for U.S. workers.
There’s no hiding that:
Obama broke his campaign promise to make reform a top issue and eroded trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement by expanding 100-fold the program known as Secure Communities, which ropes local police into enforcing federal immigration law. He tried to fend off critics who wanted him to slow deportations by claiming that he didn’t have the power to act “as a king,” only to later flip-flop and do just that during his 2012 re-election campaign when he unveiled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Obama deported a record 2 million people in five years, divided hundreds of thousands of families, failed to deal effectively with thousands of child refugees who streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border last summer and then broke another promise when he said he would take executive action on immigration before the midterm elections but blinked.
Obama is obviously, now, trying to repair the damage he’s done, but that’s tricky:
Options include some common sense items: Eliminating Secure Communities; broadening DACA by eliminating restrictions on how old applicants can be and when they had to have arrived; restating that the enforcement priority should be to remove violent criminals and not housekeepers and students; and expanding visa programs for immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens.
But it’s the final item on the list that could really upset the apple cart: deferred action for parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, which could result in as many as 4 million to 5 million people getting a temporary reprieve from deportation. When those undocumented college students known as DREAMers first argued for special treatment, the claim was based on the simple idea that they were brought here as children and thus didn’t intentionally choose to break the law.
Fair enough. But the same thing can’t be said of their parents, who did intentionally break the law. Now what? Is there a new argument?
There doesn’t seem to be one, and what’s going on here, if it goes on, doesn’t look good:
Those on the left should hold their applause. By ending the deportation juggernaut, the President would merely be putting out a fire that he started. Besides, this is just a temporary reprieve that would require the undocumented to surrender to law enforcement officials, get fingerprinted and all the rest. And it could all be revoked by the next president.
Maybe the Republicans should relax. The may be nothing much at all going on here, and they can always talk endlessly about Benghazi, to keep Hillary Clinton from become president, then President Rand Paul or President Chris Christie can deport fourteen million folks in one afternoon, all at once. Still, Andrew Sullivan, who is generally fine with Obama, was appalled by this move:
Instead of forcing the GOP to come up with a compromise bill – which if it can, great, and if it cannot, will split the GOP in two – he’d merely recast the debate around whether he is a “lawless dictator”, etc., etc. – rather than whether it is humane or rational to keep millions of people in illegal limbo indefinitely. It would strengthen those dead-ender factions in the House that are looking for an excuse to impeach. It would unify the GOP on an issue where it is, in fact, deeply divided. And it would not guarantee a real or durable solution to the clusterfuck.
Sullivan wanted Obama to wait, but now he’s changed his mind:
So both Reagan and the first Bush did exactly what Obama is proposing, as the AP has also reported – and their measures involved 1.5 million people. More to the point, the deferrals were for family members whose deportations would split parents from children.
That got to him, and he cites the US Catholic Bishops regarding this as an issue of great moral urgency:
As pastors, we witness each day the human consequences of a broken immigration system. Families are separated through deportation, migrant workers are exploited in the workplace, and migrants die in the desert … Immigration is a challenge that has confounded our nation for years, with little action from our federally elected officials. It is a matter of great moral urgency that cannot wait any longer for action.
Sullivan is Catholic, but there’s more to it than that:
As someone who has been through the immigration system – surviving the HIV immigration and travel ban for twenty years – I perhaps have a more personal understanding of this.
It is hard to describe the psychological agony of an immigration service having the power to tear your family apart, especially when it has been built in America for many years. These are human beings we are talking about – not abstractions in a partisan mud fight. They are mothers about to be separated from their children – and treated as inferior to them. They have no rights, even though they may have contributed a huge amount to the US economy, and have often displayed real tenacity in building strong and intimate families. They face real deadlines, and Obama, for a long time, has not stinted in deporting them under the law, as a (futile) way of building trust with the GOP.
That was stupid:
The House GOP does not seem to have any intention of moving on comprehensive immigration reform, preferring simply to build an even bigger fence on the Southern border, while the Senate has already passed a bipartisan comprehensive bill. Obama campaigned on this issue in 2008 and 2012. Majorities in the country favor a path to citizenship. Obama has said any action he takes would be superseded immediately by any new law. In a sane polity, Obama’s threat would lead to a commitment by the GOP to move a bill forward to address the core issues promptly. And I certainly favor that. Such prosecutorial discretion should never be considered as an alternative to legislation – just relief to individuals trapped in a limbo that would tear their families apart.
I still favor Obama’s deferral of his deferral in the interests of a more productive and constructive relationship with the GOP over the next two years. But that’s a prudential judgment of the politics of this. And it’s a close call.
No, it’s not. They will do nothing, so the politics don’t matter any longer. Do the right thing. Wait no longer.
Michael Tomasky sees the same thing and points out here that the Senate immigration bill “could have passed the House of Representatives, and probably easily, at any time since the Senate passed it in June 2013” – except for John Boehner’s decision never to let it come to a vote in the House:
It’s been 16 months, nearly 500 days, since the Senate passed the bill. The House could have passed it on any one of those days. But Boehner and the Republicans refused, completely out of cowardice and to spite Obama. Insanely irresponsible – and on top of that, Boehner told Obama in June that he was not going to allow a vote on it all year. In other words, the Speaker told the President (both of whom knew the bill had the votes) that he was not only going to refuse to have a vote, but that he was going to let the Senate bill die. And now, when Obama wants to try to do something about the issue that’s actually far, far more modest than the bill would have been, he’s the irresponsible one? That’s grounds for impeachment?
But we all knew why that bill wasn’t brought up for a vote:
The bill has its flaws of course, but it’s something we haven’t seen in Washington in many, many years: a genuinely bipartisan response on a major issue. The left gets its path to citizenship, which is the only real-world solution when you’re talking about 12 million people, the vast majority of whom are (even though they came illegally) now law-abiding and hard-working people once ensconced; and the right gets (yes, it does) heightened border security. Nobody truly loves it, but nobody ever truly loves big compromise legislation. It is, however, how Washington is supposed to function.
So there are, or were, plenty of Republican votes for it in the House. In fact the GOP pro-reform votes would likely have been closer to 80, maybe even 100, than 40. So it could have passed – no, would have passed – by somewhere in the 260-175 range. Other observers may have a lower number of “yeas”, but trust me – no person from either party speaking honestly would tell you that it would have failed. And Obama would have long since signed comprehensive immigration reform into law.
So if it had the votes, why didn’t it come up for a vote? Well, because it had the votes! The Republicans simply can’t give Obama a victory of any sort. But also: Because most of the votes for it would have been Democratic.
There is the psychological agony of an immigration service having the power to tear your family apart, and that didn’t matter. They decided to see if Obama, that bleeding-heart liberal, that old softie, would take the bait and think about what those bishops called a great moral urgency, because all of this has to do with so much human suffering, and act unilaterally, to mitigate that suffering. Obama will. Ah ha! They have him trapped, and they never really wanted those Hispanic votes anyway. Their base gets a kick out of Hispanic families suffering – it makes them feel more American themselves, and suffering is good for them anyway. Suffering is good for the soul. It builds character, and so on and so forth. And it’s so damned satisfying to watch. Those folks broke the law.
They might not put it that way, but they’ve come close at times, and Obama is, after all, about to bypass Congress, not giving them time to seat the new super-duper Republican Congress next year, and hold hearings, and come up with their own bill by next summer or fall, or winter. He’ll just do this. That’s not how things are supposed to work.
Democrats disagree, but Danny Vinik has a warning for them:
The president’s supporters argue that it’s the Republicans who have violated democratic norms, by refusing to even allow a bipartisan immigration bill that passed in the Senate to come to a vote in the House. It’s also unlikely that a move on immigration would set a precedent for future Republican presidents to undermine laws that Democrats support. I haven’t been able to imagine a comparable scenario where a Republican would have considerable legal authority to make a unilateral policy change. Immigration is a unique issue.
Still, Democrats could also lose some of their ability to claim the moral high ground on such issues. And that could matter very soon, because some Republicans are so angry about a potential immigration order they are considering using a government funding bill to block it, possibly setting up another shutdown.
The talk about who has the moral high ground here, or even what it is, gets confusing here. Obama may be overstepping, or not, and Josh Voorhees points that out:
The most sweeping action the president will likely take is to extend DACA-like reprieves to particular groups of unauthorized immigrants, the largest of which will probably be parents of children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Such a reprieve would temporarily protect them from the threat of deportation, but it wouldn’t remove that threat forever. Despite what conservatives are suggesting with their talk of “executive amnesty” the president doesn’t have the unilateral power to make someone a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident. …
There is one group for whom Obama’s actions could have a more lasting impact: those unauthorized immigrants whose spouses are U.S. citizens or legal residents. Most people in that group are technically eligible to apply for a green card already, but only if they first leave the country and wait out what’s typically a lengthy separation from their family. Obama could offer what is known as “parole in place” to that group, allowing them to stay in the country legally while the green card process plays out. He did a similar thing last November for undocumented individuals with immediate family members serving in the U.S. military. Anyone who has a green card in hand before the president leaves office in early 2017 wouldn’t have to worry about losing it if the next president changes course.
These things get tricky, and Brian Beutler suggests it’s the Republicans who are trapped:
There are three tools Republicans can use to stop Obama, but toxic Republican politics preclude the only one – a pledge to vote on comprehensive reform – that would actually work. That leaves the spending and impeachment powers. If, like Boehner, Republican hardliners truly believe the president is preparing to violate his oath of office, and an appropriations fight won’t stop him, then suddenly [that] becomes the last arrow in their quiver.
It won’t succeed either. But Boehner knows that this is where many of his members’ minds are already starting to wander. It’s why he’s once again floating the possibility of suing Obama instead.
Yeah, they could file a lawsuit and see if this Supreme Court – which gave them Citizens United and gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for them – would rule that some executive orders, or maybe all executive orders, are unconstitutional, that administering the law should be the prerogative of the legislative branch, not the executive branch, charged with administering the laws. They’ve twisted the Constitution before. They can do it again.
Until then, Rachel Roubein sees what’s coming:
If Obama announces his executive order next Friday at noon, the House could stay in session for as long as needed rather than beginning the planned Thanksgiving recess. The chamber could pass a resolution rejecting the president’s actions. Then House Republicans would focus on appropriations.
The current funding bill is set to sunset Dec. 11, and lawmakers are jockeying over passing another short-term continuing resolution or a longer-term package. The House could attach a rider prohibiting enforcement of Obama’s order, or it could not provide money to departments that would respond to executive action.
There are all sorts of way to hurt Hispanic families who have no right to be here, even if they’re hard workers and now contributing much to the nation. This could be interesting. It won’t be pleasant.
Are they offering an alternative way of dealing with all these people, most of whom range from harmless to quite useful and good? In Bloomberg View, Francis Wilkinson wonders about that:
There are, after all, a finite number of answers to the question of what to do about millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.:
1. You can offer them a path to legalization and/or citizenship.
2. You can deport them.
3. You can maintain the status quo, in which the undocumented remain in the U.S. without legal rights or recognition (and perhaps “self deport” in accord with the wishes of Mitt Romney). …
Senator Jeff Sessions, who along with Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas represents the hard end of anti-immigrant views in the Senate, shrinks from saying he supports deportation. He loudly condemns the status quo. And he’s virulently opposed to amnesty.
What was Obama supposed to do? That chattering class will debate that endlessly, no matter what he does. But someone had to do something. Let them chatter. Now they have something to chatter about.