How Effective Will Obama’s Executive Action Be at Fixing Immigration?

Executive action has its limitations.
Executive action has its limitations.

We need to talk about the parameters of President Barack Obama’s likely immigration action next month.

Because it came right before the July 4th holiday and in the middle of news reports about a surge of children at the border, Obama’s June 30 announcement of his intention to take executive action on immigration has attracted less analysis than it should. While the president did give specifics on what he would do, information coming now indicates that it will be a big program—one impacting many times the number of DREAMers helped by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program of 2012.

The word is that the president is likely to announce a DACA-like program before the end of the summer. Such a program would likely be costly to apply for. DACA costs $465, for example, and there may be no fee waivers. A good piece of advice to anyone hoping to apply is to save up your money now.

A DACA-like program would also have many limitations. It would allow the immigrant to stay and work legally in the United States, and in New York the person would be eligible to apply for a driver’s license. However, it would not give the immigrant permission to reenter the United States if he or she travelled abroad.

A more serious limitation would be the impermanence of the program. Any executive order will only last as long as Obama is president. In 2016 the next president will have to decide whether or not to continue the program.

The Constitution puts strict limitations on what a president can do without Congressional cooperation in the area of immigration law. The president cannot give undocumented immigrants permanent legal residence or create a new pathway to citizenship for them. Whatever executive action he takes can be quickly overturned by the next president.

Also, no executive action can halt all deportations. The president can act through the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. This would allow him to refocus immigration enforcement, but not to stop it altogether. Perhaps half of the 11 million undocumented might be protected by the new program, if we are lucky. The unprotected half will be in just as much jeopardy as they were before.