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Obama's next steps on immigration

April 24, 2014, at 8:31 PM
 

In the realm of fixing inequities in the immigration system, President Obama's use of the executive branch instruction has been the most powerful.

And on the anniversary of one of those declarations — which established a procedure for hundreds of thousands of children of undocumented immigrants to work and live without fear of deportation — the administration is considering a series of new steps.

Some of these are small; others would have considerable effects on the system. Because the efforts to pass a more comprehensive bill are still alive in the House of Representatives, any action that considerably shifts the optics of the debate might make it difficult for anything to get done after the midterms.

But here's what Obama could do:

(1) His current deportation policy, "being studied" for its humane-ness by the Department of Homeland Security now, is deceptively simple: if you've got a bench warrant for your arrest for outstanding speeding tickets, and you're caught, you're gone. If you've killed someone, and you get caught, you're also gone, if you're not in prison. The administration would take minor crimes off the docket, in essence, ordering DHS to focus its resources on finding and deporting every violent criminal before following through on enforcing the law for those convicted of drug crimes. (Two-thirds of those deported, according to the government, have only minor criminal records.)

At the same time, DHS would run everyone caught or made visible to its system through a sort of checklist. If you're law-abiding and productive, then you wouldn't get off scot free — you'd be in the system as a documented undocumented immigrant, but it'd be years before your hearing would begin. (One reason Obama has become synonymous with mass deportation: Republicans have effectively included money earmarked for deportation in successive budgets. The money talks. And walks. And so enforcement has risen. Obama took credit for it during the election when Republicans would complain about a porous border; his administration now insists his hands have been tied all along.)

(2) A large number of undocumented immigrants own businesses, becoming independent contractors under law. Obama could give them a sort of amnesty, starting them along a process that could end in permanent resident status if they break no laws and pay their taxes. (How can undocumented immigrants own businesses? It's a loophole. They can.) The trouble here is that undocumented immigrants might not want to register because a number of their employees are undocumented themselves and wouldn't receive the same protections.

(3) Obama could increase the age limit or cohort of those who qualify for deferred action.

If the executive branch goes forward with any plan to aggressively limit deportation, the backlash from Republicans could ensure that nothing else gets done for the next two years.

On the other hand, there is a strong chance that nothing gets done over the next two years.

I'd bet on more aggressive action from Obama, actions that help him build or reshape his legacy, rather than cautious ones.

 

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