The U.S. president, Barack Obama, is overhauling immigration law. Young foreigners and many parents, who are living in the country illegally but whose children have U.S. passports, will benefit from his decree.
On Thursday evening, Barack Obama showed once again that he has a gift for oration, when he announced his comprehensive reform of the handling of illegal immigrants. He artfully interwove his policy with the great story of America as a nation of immigrants, and he appealed to the sympathy and the sense of family of his fellow citizens to protect the children and parents who find themselves in the country illegally.
Such rhetorical outlay was absolutely necessary. Ultimately, the president wanted to convince the citizens of the most extensive amnesty for illegal immigrants in the history of the United States. The president's plans will provide protection for up to five million illegals in the country against future deportation.
"It's kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial," announced the president. He went on to say that mass deportations of the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country would be "both impossible and contrary to our character." The president announced at the same time that he wanted to strengthen border control, in order to keep out new illegal immigrants and to improve the possibility of legal immigration for desired specialists, students and entrepreneurs.
At its core however, it's about helping almost half of the illegal immigrants in the country out of a situation of uncertainty and unpredictability. On the one hand, Obama wants to expand on a program from 2012, which protected illegals that came to America as children from deportation. That would include a further 270,000 people on top of the 1.2 million legal immigrants (of which, however, only 600,000 have filed applications).
The figures are even more substantial for a brand new group who will be included in the new legislation: parents who entered the country illegally but whose children are either American citizens or have a work permit and have lived in the States for more than five years. That would apply to approximately 3.7 to 4 million people of the total 11.3 million illegals in the country.
Amnesty for Parents Is a Big Relief
"These people live in fear and anxiety, because they constantly expect to be deported," Ana Ochoa Cohen told Die Welt. The attorney has an office on the edge of Washington and specializes in matters of immigration. Amnesty for parents will also be a big relief for younger people, who are already protected from deportation as of 2012.
"Young people were so happy to come out of the shadows of illegality," the attorney said, based on her experiences. "But until now, they've always carried this fear around with them that something could happen to their parents."*
However, Obama didn't present his extensive reform as “amnesty,” but rather as an attempt to give all those who are already in the country some responsibility. "All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America," said the president. Until now, however, even the illegals who would have wanted to take on these responsibilities didn't have the chance to do so without running the risk of having their families torn apart.
The president offered the country's illegal immigrants a deal: "If you've been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal 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."
This deal doesn't apply, however, to those who have recently arrived in the U.S. It also won't be a way to obtain long-term residency or citizenship. Those affected by the regulations may not enjoy the same privileges enjoyed by American citizens – for instance, access to the new general health care system.
Harsh Criticism from the Republicans
Even during the preparation stage, the Republicans harshly criticized Obama's executive action on immigration reform as an overexpansion of presidential powers. Obama himself had a hand in this. In previous years he had claimed exactly what the Republicans are now saying: that such an extensive presidential decree is a violation of current immigration law and doesn't lie within the powers of the president.
At the start of 2013, while speaking to the Spanish TV channel Univision, Obama justified his then inactivity on immigration reform by saying, "It's important to remind everybody [...] I'm not a King. I am the head of the executive branch of government. I’m required to follow the law." A month later, he varied the same theme during a Google Hangout, saying he is "the president of the United States [...] not the emperor."
In a further interview with a Spanish channel, Obama explicitly stated that an expansion of his 2012 regulations for amnesty for minors to include other groups would mean to "ignore the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally."
It's no wonder, therefore, that Republicans are using Obama's earlier statements against him with talk of a "royal presidency," which is a harsher accusation in anti-monarchical America than it would be, for instance, in Europe. America only achieved independence by fighting against the British crown. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner even spoke of "Emperor Obama" and said that the president is overstepping his power as granted by the constitution and has "cemented his legacy of lawlessness."
Will this News Have a Suction Effect on Immigrants?
Mitch McConnell, the nominated Senate majority leader, alluded on Thursday to the fact that the president is injuring the rules of fairness, in that many have been waiting to get visas and work permits legally. The Republicans are also scared that amnesty could have a suction effect on Latin America, because newly arriving illegals could be hoping to someday enjoy a similar act of presidential grace.
In the face of criticism, the president endeavored to present his reform as being in accordance with the constitution and to declare it simply as an executive directive. The head of the executive in the U.S. has relatively large room to maneuver within the law. Obama said that the measure was, above all, about setting new priorities. It's about keeping felons out, not families; criminals, not kids; and gang members, not mothers who work hard to feed their children. And to the Republicans, he said that his new measures will only be necessary until Congress brings a new immigration law into effect.
Surveys suggest that a majority of Americans are in favor of a new immigration policy. In a questionnaire for USA Today, however, a majority of people rejected Obama's misdeed of forcing such a reform via presidential decree. This constitutional overreaching of the Democrats in the White House puts the Republicans, however, in an unpleasant situation. The Republicans' line of approach is actually aimed toward McConnell and Boehner, in that, in the coming two years, they will be looking for solutions and trying to prove themselves capable of running a government. The citizens should be able to trust the Republicans, to enable their ascension to the White House in two years.
It was somewhat helpful that in the last midterm – unlike the two before it – a lot more moderate Republicans or pragmatic conservatives were elected, while the rebel Tea Party movement was largely penned in. Now the party leadership is worried that the anger aimed at Obama will give impetus to naysayers and those who preach based on principles instead of pragmatism.
The party has only just succeeded in closing its lines and restoring some sort of internal discipline. Now the old rift between the Tea Party and the party establishment could open up again. It's very possible that Obama took this effect into account in his calculations.
If the Republican Party leadership does not succeed in appeasing the anger of its members over Obama's unilateral show of power, that could mean that the recent trench warfare and paralysis of the political system could be extended for another two years!
* Editor's note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.