President’s Executive Actions on Immigration Should Spur Congressional Action
Washington D.C. – From the perspective of immigration reformers, Tuesday’s election is unlikely to change the gridlock that has stymied immigration reform for more than 15 years. Since at least 1998, there has been bipartisan agreement that our current immigration system is broken and that Congress must act to fix it.
Since then, regardless of who has controlled Congress or the White House, the country has been waiting for the political stars to align in such a way as to make immigration reform a reality. In the meantime, families have been torn apart and our economy has been denied a powerful tool for innovation and entrepreneurship.
The reason is clear. Too few of America’s lawmakers have the courage to lead on immigration and too many are content to play politics with this critical issue. Despite the threat (and likelihood) of political tantrums from those who have consistently blocked reform, the most likely catalyst for change on immigration at this point is bold, decisive leadership by the President of the United States, who re-affirmed yesterday that he would “take whatever lawful actions I can take” by the end of the year.
President Obama can and must show the way forward by using the tools at his disposal to fix as much of our broken immigration system as he can, and to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants who have built their lives here and contribute to our society and economy, but have no means of attaining legal status under our outdated immigration system.
In taking executive action on immigration, President Obama would be following in the footsteps of every U.S. president since 1956. Since Dwight D. Eisenhower, every president has granted temporary immigration relief to one or more groups in need of assistance.
There are at least 39 such examples, including the family fairness policy of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, which protected the spouses and children of unauthorized immigrants who qualified for legal status under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Soon after the implementation of family fairness, Congress updated the law to keep families together.
If the elected House and Senate leaders who have been handed the gavel in 2015 are serious about breaking the 15-year log jam on immigration, then they won’t let the excuse of executive action stand in their way.
There is no action that the President can take that will trump the need and opportunity for lasting, permanent reforms to our broken immigration system. After more than 15 years, the nation has waited long enough. It is time for courage and leadership. It is time to act.
For additional resources, visit our resource page on Executive Action and Prosecutorial Discretion.
- Executive Grants of Temporary Immigration Relief, 1956-Present (October 2014)
- When Reagan and GHW Bush took bold executive action on immigration (October 2014)
- The President’s Discretion, Immigration Enforcement, and the Rule of Law (August 2014)