Like Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, President Barack Obama is using his executive authority to tackle immigration problems. Specifically, President Obama announced last night that he is inviting more than four million illegal immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law." Here's the deal, in the President's own words:
We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve with been in America more than five years. If you have children who are American citizens or illegal residents. If you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.
Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you [President Barack Obama, address to the nation, transcript posted by Washington Post, 2014.11.20].
Speaker John Boehner says the President is sabotaging efforts to pass legislative immigration reform, even though in his speech last night, the President explicitly invited Congress to pass a bill that would render his action unnecessary, and even though Speaker Boehner has had an effective, bipartisan immigration reform bill on his desk since June 2013. Speaker Boehner says the President is showing he can't be trusted to enforce the law, even though the Boehner Congress has given the President only enough funding to deport 400,000 out of the nation's 11,000,000 illegal immigrants, requiring the President to choose on which minority of illegal immigrants to enforce the law. The action the President announced last night allows law enforcement to focus on crooks and terrorists.
Someone in Rep. Kristi Noem's office types up a response saying that "'my way or the highway' negotiation won’t work." This from the office of a Congresswoman who supported shutting down the federal government and crashing the economy when the President wouldn't yield to GOP demands to repeal health care reform.
Rep. Noem claims that the President is defying the will of the people of South Dakota. On what basis Rep. Noem divines that popular will is unclear, since South Dakotans all seem content to enjoy the cheap produce and other labor made available by those millions of illegal immigrants and unwilling to crack down on the businesses that exploit those workers.
Rep. Noem mentions something about the President's being unconstitutional, but she has yet to enunciate the legal grounds on which she would prosecute the President... probably because there are none:
...[T]he president’s discretion to enforce the immigration laws has always been the cornerstone of a de facto guest-worker (or, if you want, caste) system from which most Americans have greatly benefited. That’s why Republicans’ claim that the president is shredding the Constitution sounds so odd to people knowledgeable about immigration law. He’s just doing what countless Congresses have wanted him to do, and have effectively forced him to do, so that Congress itself could avoid charges that it has created a two-tier system of citizenship where the bottom tier is allowed to stay in this country and work, but is not allowed to vote, to benefit from welfare programs, to travel freely, or to enjoy the full protection of workplace laws. Of course, you might say that the whole illegal immigration system, with its two-tier system of rights, violates the Constitution or at least constitutional values, but the fault for that lies with Congress, not with the president [Eric Posner, "Obama's Immigration Plan Is Perfectly Constitutional," Salon.com, 2014.11.21].
The President is taking legal and practical action to solve problems. We can only wish Speaker Boehner and Rep. Noem were similarly committed to practical action for the good of the country.
Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.
My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forbearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come [President Barack Obama, 2014.11.20].
Related: Under President Obama, illegal immigration from Mexico has declined, but overall numbers of illegal immigrants in the country have remained relatively stable, dropping just a bit from 11.3 million in 2009 to 11.2 million in 2012.