The president of the U.S. issued a regulation that will legalize millions of illegal immigrants. It would be an obvious rebellion against a Congress that blocked the amnesty for years.
"This will be one of the most important decisions of Obama's second term, which will influence how he will be judged in the history books," says Frank Sharry,* the director of America's Voice, an organization that advocates for the rights of immigrants. And this is not much of an exaggeration if the leaks from the White House are true and the president will decide to do it. At stake is the fate of 5 million immigrants, nearly half of the 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in America.
For years Obama sought immigration reform that would give illegal immigrants a chance to legalize their stay and become citizens. But at the same time, Obama methodically enforced the existing law — since the beginning of his presidency in January 2009, more than 2 million people have been deported. No other president removed so many illegal immigrants from America.
Last year, immigration reform was accepted by the U.S. Senate, which is dominated by Democrats, but the House of Representatives, consisting mostly of Republicans, does not even want to take on the project. Two weeks ago Obama lost his patience.
"If Congress will not accept the law that I could approve, I will take action to resolve the problem," stated the president.*
Since then, reports coming from the White House indicate administrative regulation will be issued in August. Obama is expected to instruct immigration authorities to stop prosecuting immigrants who fulfill certain conditions: They are either close relatives of a U.S. citizen (such as parents of a child born in the U.S.), or they have lived in America for many years. It is estimated that the regulation will affect 5 million people, who will no longer have to fear deportation and who would be able to try to get a work permit.
Presidential regulation does not have to be approved by Congress. However, until now regulations were never used to make decisions about such important matters. Republicans claim it would be unlawful and a severe breach of presidential powers.
Critics of the planned decree also claim that it is not possible to order the discontinuation of prosecution of a crime, but Obama's lawyers have a response for that. Technically speaking, the regulation will not mention the abandonment of prosecution, but it will say that the cases of immigrants from that category should be labeled as "low-priority" cases. Immigration officials have to divide their task into less and more important priorities, because they cannot deal with the illegal immigration problem — every year, 400 people, out of the 12 million who live in U.S. illegally, are deported. Marking a case as the lowest priority means moving it to the end of the line.
In 2012, Obama issued a similar regulation, but it concerned only half a million people — illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as small children (therefore they were not responsible for breaking the law; they were in some way forced to do so by their parents). That decision was made a few months before the presidential elections and was criticized as a pre-election sweetener.
This time it is quite similar — in November, there are congressional elections. In the long term, the decree would be very good for the Democrats because it would guarantee the party the support of Latino voters (70 percent of whom voted for Obama). But will it help the Democratic candidates in the current elections? It is not so clear anymore, especially in some states, where the forces are balanced. Republicans can use Obama's decree as an argument against their rivals in the race for Senate and the House of Representatives.
Arguments raised by conservatives against the amnesty are always the same: that it would be rewarding those who break the law and encourage more migrants to seek a better life in U.S. In the 2012 presidential elections, Republican candidate Mitt Romney said that the solution to the illegal immigration issue is "self-deportation" — life should be made so unbearable for immigrants that they will leave America by themselves.
Paradoxically, the last large-scale amnesty for immigrants was introduced by Ronald Reagan, who was loved and made famous by conservatives. The bill was adopted in 1986 and introduced as a "crackdown." It entailed strengthening the U.S.-Mexico border and included penalties for employers employing people illegally, among other things. But in reality, it was a huge absolution, as 3 million people that lived in the U.S before 1982 received permanent residence and, later on, citizenship.
*Editor's note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.