One of Obama’s first announcements succeeding the election was that he would be taking action on immigration. Obama announced that, by the end of the year, he would issue an executive order changing immigration policy. He didn’t specify what the content of the order would be, but it’s a fair bet that it will be similar in content to the Senate bill.
I’m of two minds when it comes to passing any sort of amnesty through executive order. I think it would be a politically savvy move, in the end. I feel like taking action on immigration is the correct response to Boehner and McConnell’s ultimatum. Essentially, Obama has told the Republican leadership that he’d like to work with them on immigration, but they need to make a show of good faith by taking concrete action. In response, they’ve told Obama that – if the mood strikes them – they might decide to cooperate with him to an unspecified extent. Keeping in mind Republican behavior over the past six years, I think that the best reaponse is to insist that Republicans’ vague half-promises are no longer sufficient; in order to be trusted they actually have to put something at stake.
I think this is especially true when one remembers Boehner’s historic inability to control his caucus. Even if Boehner was to make concrete and specific promises of cooperation, it would be perfectly rational to doubt his ability to deliver on such promises. I think that Obama is right to require Boehner to give proof that he can get his caucus to take constructive action on a substantial, controversial issue – or show his willingness to pass a bill using Democratic votes of he can’t – before he trusts Boehner’s promises in negotiations.
Of course, I doubt that Boehner is going to take any action. He won’t make a decision either way; he’ll just vacillate until Obama acts himself. I still think Obama issuing an executive order in such a situation would be politically beneficial. Taking such concrete action on immigration – and the resulting nativist freak out from the right – would cement Latino loyalty to the Democratic party. Even if the order was overturned or Obama himself took a hit in his approval ratings, I don’t think the fallout would harm Democrats in 2016.
However I do have significant worries about the Executive Order route from a policy standpoint. I dont feel qualified to make a statement on how the Supreme Court will react – I feel insufficiently informed on precedents surrounding executive orders. Specifically, I’m worried about what happens if the order is repealed; would all of the immigrants who had been granted amnesty suddenly have it revoked? I don’t think that amnesty could be so easily revoked once it had been granted, but what of immigrants who came to the US illegally, but were in the process of receiving amnesty when the order was overturned? They would be in the system and would thus be immediately targeted for deportation. My worry is that if illegal immigrants are told they can get amnesty, go to the authorities, and are then deported; then that will create permanent distrust for any government officials; It could poison the well for any future effort to give legal status to the illegal immigrant population.
The Democrats still have enough seats that Obama cam veto any legislation that attempts to override the order. However, any subsequent Republican president can simply issue an order that would overturn Obama’s. The President might betting that by the time of the next election the political cost of repealing his order will be too high; after all, this is essentially what happened with orders like the one that integrated the armed forces. Furthermore, I’m not really sure what other option is available for dealing with immigration. The Republicans have drawn the Congressional map so that a Democratic majority in the house will be impossible for the foreseeable future, so the traditional means of passing immigration may be closed off. In the end, this may just be the only available way of finally fixing America’s immigration system.