Where Are The Hawks For Immigration Reform?

Freddie asks:

[I]f you are a liberal internationalist, a humanitarian interventionist, you better be out there beating the drum for this reform every day. You better be going on cable news, spending all of your political capital trying to make this happen. You better take to the op/ed pages and Twitter and every other way you have to communicate. And when you do, you better use all of that same moralizing language you do when you’re making your constant calls for war. You better be just as aggressive in suggesting that people who oppose your preferred policy just don’t care about the lives of people who could be saved, as you do when you are advocating for cruise missile strikes. You better follow through.

Because one of the most straightforward, direct, achievable, and cheapest forms of humanitarian intervention is to welcome people with open arms into our country. The fact that this kind of humanitarianism is so rarely considered, when people are looking for ways to save the world with violence, tells you a lot about them and what they really care about.

Can Republicans Avoid The Trap Obama Set?

GOP Immigration

Noam Scheiber highly doubts it:

[T]he conservative message machine has gone on at length about the “constitutional crisis” the president is instigating. The right has compared Obama to a monarch (see here and here), a Latin American caudillo, even a conspirator against the Roman Republic. (Ever melodrama much?) The rhetoric gets a little thick. But if you boil it down, the critique is mostly about Obama’s usurpation of power and contempt for democratic norms, not the substance of his policy change. Some Republicans no doubt believe it.

And yet, try as they might to stick to the script, there’s something about dark-skinned foreigners that sends the conservative id into overdrive.

Most famously, there’s Iowa Congressman Steve King’s observation last year that for every child brought into the country illegally “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” While King tends to be especially vivid in his lunacy, he’s no outlier.

How Chait expects this to play out:

Substantively, Obama’s executive order gives him less than he hoped to gain with a bipartisan law. But politically, he has ceded no advantage. Indeed, he has gained one. Not only does immigration remain a live issue, it is livelier than ever. The GOP primary will remorselessly drive its candidates rightward and force them to promise to overturn Obama’s reform, and thus to immediately threaten with deportation some 5 million people — none of whom can vote, but nearly all of whom have friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors who can. …

The emotional momentum in the Republican Party now falls to its most furious, deranged voices. Michele Bachmann has denounced what she calls “millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language.” Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama has even presented the most sympathetic slice of the immigrant community — the ones serving in the military — as a source of insidious competition and even treason. (“I don’t want American citizens having to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs in our military … These individuals have to be absolutely 100 percent loyal and trustworthy.” Steve King, a regular font of nativist outbursts, is setting himself up as a power broker in Iowa, which will command center stage in the GOP primary for months and months on end.

(Graphic from Josh Marshall.)

Obama’s Legal Footing Is Firm

That’s Walter Dellinger’s determination:

The idea that the immigration plan just announced by President Obama is a lawless power grab is absurd. As the Justice Department legal analysis that was just released amply demonstrates, much of the advance criticism of the president’s action has been uninformed and unwarranted. The opinion is well-reasoned and at times even conservative. The president is not acting unilaterally, but pursuant to his statutory authority. Wide discretion over deportation priorities has long been conferred on the executive branch by Congress, and it is being exercised in this case consistent with policies such as family unification that have been endorsed by Congress.

The piece is by far the best I’ve read on the subject, and calms my fears a lot. This is the best response to Ross’s point that if the president can do this for 4 million, why not every undocumented immigrant:

The lawyers here were cautious. They gave approval for deferred actions for parents of citizens and lawful permanent residents, finding that Congress had demonstrated support for permitting people who are lawfully in America to be united with their parents, spouses, and children. They did not, however, believe that they could approve a similar program for parents of those who are in the United States under the deferred action for childhood arrivals, or DACA, program. Because the Dreamers remain in the country based on discretion, not on the basis of a legal entitlement, OLC reasoned that without a family member with lawful status in the United States, there was not the same grounding in congressional policy to justify classwide relief.

But, again, the ability of the Obama administration to make its best case seems to be in doubt. They put out a long legal paper – but back it up with no aggressive messaging in the broader public square. That way, they win the argument but somehow lose the debate. Which is the story on the ACA as well. Here’s Dellinger’s strongest point, it seems to me, and one critical to understanding the debate about executive discretion:

There are 11.3 million people in the United States who, for one reason or another, are deportable. The largest number that can be deported in any year under the resources provided by Congress is somewhere around 400,000. Congress has recognized this and in 6 U.S.C. 202 (5) it has directed the secretary of homeland security to establish “national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.” In the action announced tonight, the secretary has done just that, and the president has approved.

Drum, for his part, is somewhat surprised to find that “both liberal and conservative legal scholars—as opposed to TV talking heads and other professional rabble-rousers—agree that Obama has the authority to reshape immigration enforcement in nearly any way he wants to”:

It’s an open question whether Obama’s actions are politically wise. It might force Republicans into an uncomfortable corner as they compete loudly to denounce Obama’s actions, further damaging their chances of appealing to Hispanics in future elections. Alternatively, it might poison any possibility of working constructively with congressional Republicans over the next couple of years, which might further degrade Democratic approval ratings. There’s also, I think, a legitimate question about whether liberals should be cheering an expansion of presidential power, whether it’s legal or not.

That said, Obama’s actions really do appear to be not just legal, but fairly uncontroversially so among people who know both the law and past precedent.

Marty Lederman dispels “some of the more commonly heard myths about the DHS enforcement priorities and ‘deferred action’ policies that the President just announced.” One myth he busts:

It does not “cut out Congress”—indeed, it relies upon statutory authority.  Nor does it contradict what Congress has prescribed.  Neither the President nor the Secretary nor OLC has said anything to suggest that Congress could not, by statute, require a different enforcement scheme—to the contrary, OLC specifically acknowledges (pp. 4, 6) that Congress could legislate limits on enforcement discretion that the agency would be obliged to follow.  Moreover, and of great significance, OLC specifically concludes that, because enforcement priority decisions must be “consonant with, rather than contrary to,” Congress’s policy decisions as reflected in the governing statutes (pp. 5, 20), it would not be permissible for DHS to afford deferred action status to one category of aliens that the agency had proposed to cover (parents of children who have received deferred action status under the so-called “DACA” program):  Offering deferred action status to such aliens, OLC opined, would be unlawful because it would “deviate in important respects from the immigration system Congress has enacted and the policies that system embodies” (p. 32).

Ilya Somin agrees that Obama is in the clear:

I am no fan of the Obama administration’s approach to constitutional interpretation. In too many instances, the president really has acted illegally and undermined the rule of law – most notably by starting wars without congressional authorization. But today’s decision isn’t one of them.

What Is The GOP’s Immigration Policy?

Here’s what Obama did last night:

Ezra requests that Republicans formulate a real response:

Republicans need to decide what to do with the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country now. They need to take away Obama’s single strongest argument — that this is a crisis, and that congressional Republicans don’t have an answer and won’t let anyone else come up with one. …

That, really, is Obama’s advantage right now. Even if you think he’s going too far, he at least wants to solve the problem. Republicans don’t seem to want to do anything except stop Obama from solving the problem. That’s not a winning position. More to the point, it’s not a responsible one.

Bloomberg View’s editors echo:

It’s time for Republicans to put up or shut up. By now it’s clear what they’re against — the dreaded “a” word (amnesty). But what are they for? They can’t avoid that question any longer. Now that they are the majority party in both houses, they don’t have the luxury of sitting back and criticizing everything that Democrats propose. Now they’re in charge. They need to start acting like it.

Thomas Mann is in the same ballpark:

Let’s get serious. Republicans used their majority foothold in the House to guarantee that Congress would be the graveyard of serious policymaking, a far cry from the deliberative first branch of government designed by the framers. They have reduced the legislative process to nothing more than a tool in a partisan war to control the levers of public power. The cost of such unrelenting opposition and gridlock is that policymaking initiative and power inevitably will flow elsewhere  — to the executive and the courts.

America Is A Good Place To Be Undocumented

Relatively speaking:

Illegal immigrants do not cause exploitative employers to put Americans out of a job. Rather, the toleration of exploitative employers is what creates the demand for illegal immigrants.

To illustrate this, look to Europe. In August, your correspondent was standing on the seafront in Calais, France, asking young penniless Africans why they were so desperate to hitch a ride over the channel, when France is just as wealthy as Britain. The answer is actually simple. In France, finding work without an identity card is extremely difficult. That is why in Paris, unlike in London, tourists often find themselves accosted by African men selling beads or running scams. Africans living in London without paperwork don’t need to sell trinkets to get by: they can find better-paid work cleaning offices.

Eric Posner’s read on the situation:

Republicans are right about one thing. Obama’s action will not fix the problem of illegal immigration; nor would congressional action that created a legal pathway to citizenship. The great irony is that as undocumented aliens gain rights, they will no longer need to, or even be able to, supply menial work at a low wage. Illegal immigration will rise again, just as it did after the last path-to-citizenship-law in 1986. America’s hunger for cheap labor can’t be legislated away.

Making Yourself Legal Isn’t So Easy

For Jose Antonio Vargas, the executive action Obama took last night was personal:

Of all the questions I get asked as an undocumented immigrant in the United States, there are two—asked in various permutations via email, social media or in person—that chill me to the bone: “Why don’t you just make yourself legal?”

And: “Why don’t you get in the back of the line?”

The questions underscore the depth of misunderstanding about how the immigration process works, and doesn’t work. They imply that, short of self-deportation, there is a process for undocumented people like me to follow, a way to rectify the situation and adjust our status. Just show up at an office, fill out a form, and get in the back of a line. Somewhere. Anywhere.

I’ve gotten asked these questions so many times that I decided to walk viewers through the process—or lack thereof—in a scene in my film “Documented,” where I chronicle a broken and inhumane immigration system that, among other things, has kept my mother and I apart for 21 years. Barring any executive action, I can’t leave the U.S.; there’s no guarantee that I’d be allowed back.

Flavelle also dismantles the Republicans’ moral argument:

[S]ay you’re a Mexican citizen with no special skills, no money for an investor’s visa and no relatives living legally in the U.S. You can’t apply for the green-card lottery, and you have no grounds for asylum. Your only hope to move to the U.S. is to be one of the few thousand unskilled workers who squeak in each year — or to enter illegally. …

Yes, people living here without authorization are breaking the law. Pretending that they had a viable legal alternative just makes it easier to demonize them, by viewing those immigrants as wrongly taking something that might have been theirs had they only followed the rules. The annual green-card figures show that for most of the people affected by Obama’s order, that probably wasn’t the case.

Ruben Navarrette Jr., on the other hand, worries about how the executive action will play out:

Looking ahead, it’s unclear how many of the estimated 4 to 5 million illegal immigrants who might be eligible for relief under the guidelines spelled out by Obama will actually apply for the dispensation. Another unknown is how many from that pool will eventually qualify. In the case of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that served as a model for what the president intends to do with, for instance, the undocumented parents of U.S.-born children, only about a third of those who were eligible were willing to risk going through the process to be awarded deferred action. This includes walking into a Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, turning yourself in, getting fingerprinted, handling over your home address and all your personal information, all in return for the promise not to deport you—at least for now. Expect many of those who are eligible for relief under the new program to say, “Thanks but no thanks” and go on their way.

Meanwhile, the Obama deportation machine will continue to run 24/7 and enforcement might be even more aggressive than it has been up to now in order to overcompensate for what many Americans perceive as a giveaway for illegal immigrants.

Along those lines, Hayley Munguia looks closely at the undocumented immigrants still under threat of deportation:

Obama said Thursday that his plan prioritizes “deporting felons, not families.” And the percentage of deportations that involved undocumented immigrants convicted of a crime has increased significantly from 35 percent in 2007 to 59 percent last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. But those numbers include minor infractions like traffic violations. Since 2003, there have been 433,000 removals of undocumented immigrants convicted exclusively of nonviolent crimes, the MPI has reported.

Obama’s Immigration Speech: Reader Reax

One writes:

Watching Obama last night, I really felt that the quotation from scripture was the most powerful part of his speech.  For too long the GOP base has wanted to have it both ways on immigration and Christianity.  On the one hand, they consider themselves the true guardians of Christian orthodoxy and scriptural truth.  On the other hand, they’re all for the inhumane deportation of human beings and the splitting apart of families.  You simply can’t be a “Bible believing” Christian and support mass deportation.  A conservative interpretation of scripture doesn’t allow that.  I think Obama subtly drove that home with the quotation.

Of course, scripture itself cuts across conservative and liberal politics, which is why we shouldn’t base government policy exclusively on scripture.  But the Christianists have been living dangerously picking and choosing from scripture for a long time.  Last night, Obama reminded them that two can play that game and revealed the house of cards on which the entire Christianist position has been constructed.

How another puts it:

One president declares war on the wrong country, killing 100,000+, and he’s lauded. The next president allows American children to continue living with their parents and he’s the lawless one?

Wait, what are family values again?

And another questions the party’s supposed conservatism:

Can you imagine anyone shutting down the government or impeaching a president over such a limited, reasonable, small-c conservative plan as Obama announced last night?

Funny, I don’t seem to remember the federal government shutting down even at wrenching national moments like when President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas national guard to protect (and enforce) African-American kids being allowed to desegregate public schools.  Yet, this is going to “poison the well” and blow up governing for (another) two years?  Please.

Voters and the press have to stop giving Republicans a free pass on nihilism.  While complaining about violating “political norms,” Ross Douthat and David Brooks are defending a new, dangerous norm: that  Republicans can secede, nullify, and sabotage as a routine political tool.

Another is also sick of the GOP:

Reince Prebus said after the Republican victory that they would only consider immigration after signing a border security bill (i.e. “Immigration is dead until we remove all incentives for our party to pass it”). And remember, after the 2012 elections, it was considered an inevitable fact that Republicans had the move on immigration, and they didn’t. Now they feel none of the pressure they did after the 2012 loss and we’re supposed to think that there is a greater than 0 chance they’ll do it?

This is why I ultimately support Obama’s action. We’ve delayed and delayed and delayed, and I think everything you’ve said about why he should wait a bit more will be just as true when the six-month period you favor ends. As a result, I see no political benefit to waiting. Do it now because it’s the right thing to do and let Congress decide when it wants to do its job again.

Another adds a lot of context:

Your question of “how many immigrants will Obama let stay,” or “allow to stay,” perpetuates an important misconception in this debate.  As Greg Sargent helpfully explains, Obama is not proposing to deport less people, and the same number (roughly 400,000) will continue to be deported, with or without executive action. Why?  Because Congress only appropriates enough money to deport that number, or roughly 3.5% of the approximate 12 million undocumented aliens.   As there is an existing, bipartisan agreement that some 96.5% of the undocumented population will be allowed to remain here (i.e., the “how many” question), Obama’s executive action asks only: which undocumented immigrants should populate the 400,000 who are deported?

That is a crucial distinction.  The question is not whether Obama should increase the number of undocumented immigrants (he isn’t), but whether he should apply severely limited resources in a targeted fashion (e.g., new arrivals, criminals, etc.) or indiscriminately (e.g., a law abiding mother of a U.S. citizen-child)?  And, is Obama plausibly “tearing up the Constitution” if he deports the only number of people he can (about 400,000), but prioritizes who should be deported within such Congressionally imposed constraints?

Notably, Republicans are not proposing to increase such spending/deportations. Characteristically, they are threatening only to further defund the government.  Aside from raw politics, the Republican position is largely: (i) don’t inform our base that we agree that less than 1 out of 10 undocumented immigrants should be deported, (ii) apply the meager 3% budget indiscriminately to terrorize the wider immigrant population, and (iii) most of all, don’t do anything that would remove the pejorative, crippling “illegal” designation from this disadvantaged labor supply.

One more reader “shares a personal anecdote related to the president’s looming executive action”:

Nearly 10 years ago, my aunt and uncle left behind a comfortable, middle-class life in Mexico after receiving death threats from a drug cartel. My aunt months pregnant, they respectively abandoned a successful small business and a professional career to seek refuge in the U.S. from a drug war that has claimed the lives of at least 85,000 people. (A war, I should add, fueled by American drug consumption habits and lax gun restrictions.) They’ve lived here without legal status since.

I’m couldn’t be happier for them, their daughter, and millions of others expected to benefit from the executive action. And I’m grateful for a president who has concluded that we are neither safer nor more prosperous tearing families apart, relegating productive members of society to lives of constant fear and abuse.

Obama’s Immigration Speech: Blog Reax

The speech in full (transcript here):

Chris Cillizza thought the speech “fit more neatly into the Obama of the 2008 campaign and the first term of his presidency — heavy on inspiration and imagery, relatively light on details and depth”:

It’s the sort of address Obama is both best at and most comfortable giving. The idea of what makes America America — particularly in the face of the unique challenges that the 21st century poses for the country on the domestic and international fronts — is something he has quite clearly spent significant time thinking about. The 2008 edition Obama we saw tonight is also, not coincidentally, the version most beloved by the base of the Democratic party. And, in truth, that’s who the speech was really aimed at.  The politics of immigration  are such that there were no words Obama could (or would be willing to) utter that would drastically reshape the coming fight over the issue.

Beinart argues that Obama “decided once again to trigger the hatred of defenders of the status quo because, I suspect, he knows American history well enough to know that real moral progress doesn’t happen any other way”:

Yes, Obama is a pragmatist. Yes, he is professorial. Yes, he wants to be liked by his ideological opponents and by the powers that be. But he also knows that were he in his twenties today—a young man of color with a foreign parent and a foreign-sounding name—he might be among those activists challenging the vicious injustice of America’s immigration system. When Obama talked about “the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love,” he wasn’t only comparing them to his daughters. He was comparing them to himself.

For progressives, this was always the real promise of Barack Obama. It was the promise that a black man with a Muslim name who had worked in Chicago’s ghettos—a man who had tasted what it means to a stranger in America—would bring that memory with him when he entered the White House. It’s a promise he fulfilled tonight.

Ramesh Ponnuru feels that, in Obama’s speech, the “policy and the rhetoric are at war with each other”:

I imagine that most left-wingers will rally behind the president’s immigration policy, especially since it appears to be a minority position. But some of them will be complaining that the president didn’t go far enough. And we should take a moment to appreciate that they have a point. The moralizing language Obama used, which essentially cast attempts to enforce the immigration laws as acts of indecency, are hard to square with the limits that he set.

JPod makes a version of the same argument:

Simply put, the president offers no explanation for why he is ordering these changes only for 5 million of the nearly 12 million illegals in the United States. Everything he said in his speech about the value of immigrants, and the need to show kindness to the stranger, ought in theory to apply to any illegal but a criminal. But Obama has limited its reach to people who have been here for several years and have children who are American citizens. This means either his arguments are disingenuous, or he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions, or he’s calibrating his responses to satisfy a political constituency without causing a wholesale eruption inside the country. Or all three.

Jonah Goldberg is on the same page:

This is the way this president and his fans always sell his policies. They mock, ridicule, snark, smirk, wink and guffaw at any notion he’s a radical or an ideologue when the action he wants to take is under debate. It’s just a modest This, a pragmatic That, an incremental The Other Thing. But, once it’s a fait accompli, it’s a Big F’ing Deal — to borrow a phrase from the Vice President. Right now, what Obama wants to do is par far for the course for every president Why, it would be weird if he didn’t give 5 million people amnesty. But I have no doubt that in the minutes, days, or, at the most, weeks to come I will be getting emails from the DNC telling me this a bold, historic, revolutionary piece of legislation executive action.

Dara Lind wonders how many undocumented immigrants will actually take advantage of the new policy:

In order for the program to be effective when it officially launches (which is expected to be in spring of 2015), people are going to have to apply. And that could be tricky. After all, these are people who’ve been living in the shadows for years — and have learned that any interaction with government officials could lead to their deportation.

The good news is that the administration, and community groups, have done something of a test run on the new program — via the DACA program in 2012. The push to get unauthorized immigrants to apply for DACA has created an existing infrastructure that can now be built on for the new, expanded relief programs. But in order to build on that, they’re going to need more money and more lawyers. And the government agency running the program, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, doesn’t have much money to spend on outreach.

Claire Groden expects that “Obama’s deportation order will affect fewer people than you’ve heard”:

[E]ven among those who will apply, not all will receive protection. Undocumented parents of legal residents and citizens will have to pass the same kind of background checks as those applying for visas, [the Migration Policy Institute’s Marc] Rosenblum said. People who will qualify under the expanded umbrella of DACA can’t have any felonies or significant misdemeanors on their track record. Protection is far from automatic: undocumented people will have to not only fit the eligibility requirements, but prove it.

Byron York views the speech as baldly political:

Obama’s action is not about winning broad support now. It’s a long-term effort to increase the number of Hispanic voters, who chose Obama over Mitt Romney by 71 percent to 27 percent in 2012. If that support can be cast in cement, and the number of Hispanic voters increased even beyond current demographic trends — well, that would be very good news for the future health of the Obama coalition.

Jamelle Bouie is unsure “how much the Democrats gain” from the executive order itself:

At most, the president’s immigration order might strengthen the short-term bonds among Latinos, Asians, and the Democratic Party. More significant, I think, is the Republican reaction. If the GOP reacts to the immigration order with unhinged hysteria and anti-immigrant animus … it could further estrange itself from these groups. And that, more than anything, could shift the long-term shape of our politics.

Ed Morrissey is puzzled by the “rather large gap between his speech tonight and the actual action Obama promises to take”:

Section 2 is titled in bold font, You Cannot Apply For Several Months. The start of the program is nebulously given as “early 2015,” which could mean anything from January 2 to, say, June 29th. Why not start now if Obama is so tired of waiting? One has to wonder whether this is a bluff of sorts, intended to scare House Republicans into passing the Senate bill in the waning days of the lame-duck session. If Obama’s willing to wait “several months” to take action, why not just wait and at least attempt negotiation with incoming Republican leadership?

Ambinder expects that “immigration politics will become nastier in the near-term”:

You think you’ve heard the last of talk radio hosts bloviating about Ebola-carrying migrants sneaking across the southern border? It’s about to get much worse, and much more toxic. By singling out certain classes of undocumented immigrants, Obama puts a bullseye on the backs of those who do not qualify for documented status. Add the idea that the president is acting like a dictator and — kaboom: the act of granting amnesty becomes even more associated with one political party.

And Suderman fears that real immigration reform just got harder:

Unprecedented, unpopular, large-scale, unilateral policy changes are nearly certain to produce a backlash—against the president, against his party, and against the ideas at the heart of the policy change itself.

To me, this is the most significant risk of Obama’s plan—that it will create a backlash, not only amongst congressional Republicans, but within the public at large, a backlash that makes it more difficult to achieve a stable, legal, and politically viable system of expanded and simplified immigration, one that is not dependent on a sympathetic executive or enforcement discretion, but that is codified in law and agreed upon by enough of the country’s residents and legislators.

Live-Blogging Obama’s Immigration Speech

 

Well, I should confess something up-front. I found the president’s peroration deeply moving as an immigrant myself who has experienced a little of the fear and insecurity that being in some way on the wrong side of the immigration services can incur. The paradox of living somewhere and building a life and knowing that it can all be suddenly swept away; the thought of being separated from those you love – for ever; the stresses within families and marriages that such a shadowy existence can create. We need a full-throated defense of immigration in these cramped and narrow times, and the president was more than eloquent on that tonight – and made his case with a calm assurance and intensity. I’m gladdened by it – and I can only begin to appreciate how his words will have felt to millions of others.

Did he make the case that a mass deferral of deportations was the only option for him? Not so effectively. His strongest point was simply the phrase: “pass a bill.” Saying he is doing this as a temporary measure, that it will be superseded as soon as a law reaches his desk, gives him a stronger position than some suppose. There is more than one actor in our system. The president and the Senate have done their part; the House has resolutely refused to do its – by failing even to take a vote on the matter. Why, many will ask, can’t the Congress come up with a compromise that would forestall and over-rule this maneuver? What prevents the Republicans from acting in return to forestall this?

At the same time, he did not press the Reagan and Bush precedents. And his description of the current mess as a de facto amnesty was not as effective as he might have hoped. His early backing of even more spending on the border, his initial citing of the need for the undocumented to “get right with the law” by coming out of the shadows to pay back taxes, among other responsibilities, was a way to disarm conservative critics. It almost certainly won’t. But it remains a fact that the speech – in classic Obama style – blended conservative stringency with liberal empathy in equal parts.

Objectively, this is surely the moderate middle. Obama’s position on immigration – as on healthcare – has always been that. It’s utterly in line with his predecessor and with the Reagan era when many conservatives were eager for maximal immigration. His political isolation now is a function, first and foremost, of unrelenting Republican opposition and obstructionism. From time to time, then, it is more than good to see him openly challenge the box others want to put him in, to reassert that he has long been the reasonable figure on many of these debates, and to remind us that we have a president whose substantive proposals should, in any sane polity, be the basis for a way forward, for a compromise.

They are not, of course. And this act of presidential doggedness, after so long a wait, may well inflame the divisions further. I still have doubts about the wisdom of this strategy. But I see why this president refuses to give in, to cast his future to fate, to disappoint again a constituency he has pledged to in the past, and why he is re-stating his right as president to be a prime actor rather than a passive observer in the last two years of his term. That’s who many of us voted for. And we do not believe that the election of a Republican Senate in 2014 makes his presidency moot. Au contraire.

The branches are designed to clash and to jostle over public policy. And the Congress has one thing it can do now that it has for so long refused to do. It can act. And it should. The sooner the better.

The Payoff Of Amnesty

Alex Nowrasteh claims that the “economic impact of this legalization will be positive”:

In the wake of the 1986 Reagan amnesty, wages for legalized immigrants increased – sometimes by as much as 15 percent – because legal workers are more productive and can command higher wages than illegal workers.[i]  Being legal also allows these immigrants to invest in U.S.-specific human capital, like learning English, which will increase their productivity and wages.  Unlawful immigrants are less likely to make these investments in human capital because they could be deported, thus wiping out such investment.  We will likely see a similar increase in the wages of many of the unlawful immigrants legalized today.  This benefit would likely accrue to all of the working unlawful immigrants who would be legalized under this executive order.

Professor Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda of UCLA wrote a paper for Cato in 2012 in which he employed a dynamic model called the GMig2 to study comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on the U.S. economy.  He found that a full legalization of unlawful immigrants will increase U.S. GDP by about $700 billion dollars over the next ten years, primarily by allowing the legalized workers to be more productive.  Any impact of legalizations on GDP would be smaller under an executive order because many of them would be temporary and it would not cover the entire unlawful immigrant population, but it would still produce hundreds of billions of dollars of more GDP within ten years.

In a piece we cited earlier today, Carl Hampe outlined other potential economic benefits:

Many U.S. companies provide goods and services that are purchased by the estimated 11 million undocumented. If half of them obtain work authorization, their purchasing power should increase, and this would benefit the U.S. economy generally. Many U.S. companies hire unskilled workers, and some of these companies expend significant resources ensuring that they do not knowingly hire undocumented immigrants when doing so. If the pool of authorized workers were expanded by 5 million people, some U.S. companies would have a larger pool of authorized labor from which to recruit, and their liability concerns would be diminished. Indeed, the president’s proposal would benefit compliance-minded U.S. companies that would now be able to attract newly work-authorized individuals away from companies that paid less competitive wages and were not as mindful of the hiring rules. This should benefit all unskilled U.S. workers, not merely those who are undocumented.