The Amnesty debate – some facts behind the arguments
WASHINGTON, November 20, 2014 – There is a lot of speculation regarding President Obama’s address tonight.
Regardless of where you stand on the immigration / amnesty debate, the one rule that guides our branches of government is the United States Constitution.
As to immigration, the 14th Amendment of the Constitution says:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
President Obama’s immigration plan is aimed at the more than eleven million illegal immigrants in the United States. President Obama has said that tonight he will outline steps that he can take to “fix our broken immigration system.”
The country is divided as to whether they support Obama’s executive order plans. A recent NBC poll finds that only 38% of Americans approve of the president’s planned action, or that 48% disapprove.
The NBC poll also highlighted that 37% of Hispanics disapprove of amnesty. And even more shocking may be that only 63% of Democrats favor the presidents planned action.
It also shows that 57% of Americans favor a pathway to citizenship, a number that swells if that path that includes paying fines, back taxes and passing security checks.
A USA Today poll finds that nearly half (46%) of American do not want unilateral amnesty given to illegal immigrants compared to 42% who says President Obama should act. Polling following midterm elections found that 74% of voters did not want Obama to act.
Obama does like to repeat that Congress refuses to act; however, in June 2013, a bipartisan vote (68-32) passed legislation to create pathways for undocumented immigrants and increase security at the U.S.-Mexico border.
However, the bill was held up in the House, by Republicans.
Republicans, while they agree immigration is an issue that needs addressed, roundly disagree with the President’s plan to fill the American economy and work force with more than six million, and counting, new legally-working persons.
There is debate as to whether those workers will increase our economy, or take needed jobs from Americans and legal immigrants.
If Obama’s plan goes as anticipated, it would represent the most significant alteration in the U.S. immigration system since the 1980s. Obama has discussed his plan with congressional Democrats, sans Republicans, during a recent White House dinner.
President Obama’s action tonight will protect approximately five million illegal immigrants by granting legal status and work permits.
The act will defer deportation for the parents of U.S. Citizens.
Deportation for “certain groups” will stop, including parents who have lived in the US for five years or more and whose children are already citizens or have legal status. This includes some 3.7 million illegal immigrants (Migration Policy Institute). Those immigrants would be able to apply for work permits.
If the action includes spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the number of eligible immigrants rises to 3.8 million.
Obama is also expected to announce new efforts to protect the border.
The President will most likely lengthen his 2-year-old program that allows immigrants under 31, and who had arrived before June 2007 , to apply for a reprieve from deportation. Plans would increase the age limits on both ends to include persons older than 31 and allow persons who arrived in the US as adults (older than 16) to take advantage of the program that was first designed to assist the “dreamer” class of immigrants comprised of youth that were young children brought to the US by their parents.
The plan is expected to include enhanced visa access to foreigners who come to the US to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees.
None of those affected by Obama’s actions would have a path to citizenship, and the actions could be reversed by a new president after Obama leaves office.
Illegals given amnesty would not be entitled to federal benefits — including health care tax credits — under Obama’s plan.
Instead of argument for Republican opposition to the plan, Speaker Boehner’s office has released a list of 22 times that President Obama has explained why he can not, or should not, take actions that would ignore or create laws such as he plans to do tonight:
— Speaker John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) November 19, 2014
1. “I take the Constitution very seriously. The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with [the president] trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m President of the United States of America.” (3/31/08)
2. “We’ve got a government designed by the Founders so that there’d be checks and balances. You don’t want a president who’s too powerful or a Congress that’s too powerful or a court that’s too powerful. Everybody’s got their own role. Congress’s job is to pass legislation. The president can veto it or he can sign it. … I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress.” (5/19/08)
3. “Comprehensive reform, that’s how we’re going to solve this problem. … Anybody who tells you it’s going to be easy or that I can wave a magic wand and make it happen hasn’t been paying attention to how this town works.” (5/5/10)
4. “[T]here are those in the immigrants’ rights community who have argued passionately that we should simply provide those who are [here] illegally with legal status, or at least ignore the laws on the books and put an end to deportation until we have better laws. … I believe such an indiscriminate approach would be both unwise and unfair. It would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision. And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. And it would also ignore the millions of people around the world who are waiting in line to come here legally. Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable.” (7/1/10)
5. “I do have an obligation to make sure that I am following some of the rules. I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there. I’ve got to work to make sure that they are changed.” (10/14/10)
6. “I am president, I am not king. I can’t do these things just by myself. We have a system of government that requires the Congress to work with the Executive Branch to make it happen. I’m committed to making it happen, but I’ve got to have some partners to do it. … The main thing we have to do to stop deportations is to change the laws. … [T]he most important thing that we can do is to change the law because the way the system works – again, I just want to repeat, I’m president, I’m not king. If Congress has laws on the books that says that people who are here who are not documented have to be deported, then I can exercise some flexibility in terms of where we deploy our resources, to focus on people who are really causing problems as a opposed to families who are just trying to work and support themselves. But there’s a limit to the discretion that I can show because I am obliged to execute the law. That’s what the Executive Branch means. I can’t just make the laws up by myself. So the most important thing that we can do is focus on changing the underlying laws.” (10/25/10)
7. “America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the President, am obligated to enforce the law. I don’t have a choice about that. That’s part of my job. But I can advocate for changes in the law so that we have a country that is both respectful of the law but also continues to be a great nation of immigrants. … With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed …. [W]e’ve got three branches of government. Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws. There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.” (3/28/11)
8. “I can’t solve this problem by myself. … [W]e’re going to have to have bipartisan support in order to make it happen. … I can’t do it by myself. We’re going to have to change the laws in Congress, but I’m confident we can make it happen.” (4/20/11)
9. “I know some here wish that I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself. But that’s not how democracy works. See, democracy is hard. But it’s right. Changing our laws means doing the hard work of changing minds and changing votes, one by one.” (4/29/11)
10. “Sometimes when I talk to immigration advocates, they wish I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself. But that’s not how a democracy works. What we really need to do is to keep up the fight to pass genuine, comprehensive reform. That is the ultimate solution to this problem. That’s what I’m committed to doing.” (5/10/11)
11. “I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books …. Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you. Not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.” (7/25/11)
12. “So what we’ve tried to do is within the constraints of the laws on the books, we’ve tried to be as fair, humane, just as we can, recognizing, though, that the laws themselves need to be changed. … The most important thing for your viewers and listeners and readers to understand is that in order to change our laws, we’ve got to get it through the House of Representatives, which is currently controlled by Republicans, and we’ve got to get 60 votes in the Senate. … Administratively, we can’t ignore the law. … I just have to continue to say this notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true. We are doing everything we can administratively. But the fact of the matter is there are laws on the books that I have to enforce. And I think there’s been a great disservice done to the cause of getting the DREAM Act passed and getting comprehensive immigration passed by perpetrating the notion that somehow, by myself, I can go and do these things. It’s just not true. … We live in a democracy. You have to pass bills through the legislature, and then I can sign it. And if all the attention is focused away from the legislative process, then that is going to lead to a constant dead-end. We have to recognize how the system works, and then apply pressure to those places where votes can be gotten and, ultimately, we can get this thing solved.” (9/28/11)
In June 2012, President Obama unilaterally granted deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), allowing “eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety … to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.” He then argued that he had already done everything he could legally do on his own:
1. “Now, what I’ve always said is, as the head of the executive branch, there’s a limit to what I can do. Part of the reason that deportations went up was Congress put a whole lot of money into it, and when you have a lot of resources and a lot more agents involved, then there are going to be higher numbers. What we’ve said is, let’s make sure that you’re not misdirecting those resources. But we’re still going to, ultimately, have to change the laws in order to avoid some of the heartbreaking stories that you see coming up occasionally. And that’s why this continues to be a top priority of mine. … And we will continue to make sure that how we enforce is done as fairly and justly as possible. But until we have a law in place that provides a pathway for legalization and/or citizenship for the folks in question, we’re going to continue to be bound by the law. … And so part of the challenge as President is constantly saying, ‘what authorities do I have?’” (9/20/12)
2. “We are a nation of immigrants. … But we’re also a nation of laws. So what I’ve said is, we need to fix a broken immigration system. And I’ve done everything that I can on my own[.]” (10/16/12)
3. “I’m not a king. I am the head of the executive branch of government. I’m required to follow the law. And that’s what we’ve done. But what I’ve also said is, let’s make sure that we’re applying the law in a way that takes into account people’s humanity. That’s the reason that we moved forward on deferred action. Within the confines of the law we said, we have some discretion in terms of how we apply this law.” (1/30/13)
4. “I’m not a king. You know, my job as the head of the executive branch ultimately is to carry out the law. And, you know, when it comes to enforcement of our immigration laws, we’ve got some discretion. We can prioritize what we do. But we can’t simply ignore the law. When it comes to the dreamers, we were able to identify that group and say, ‘These folks are generally not a risk. They’re not involved in crime. … And so let’s prioritize our enforcement resources.’ But to sort through all the possible cases of everybody who might have a sympathetic story to tell is very difficult to do. This is why we need comprehensive immigration reform. To make sure that once and for all, in a way that is, you know, ratified by Congress, we can say that there is a pathway to citizenship for people who are staying out of trouble, who are trying to do the right thing, who’ve put down roots here. … My job is to carry out the law. And so Congress gives us a whole bunch of resources. They give us an order that we’ve got to go out there and enforce the laws that are on the books. … If this was an issue that I could do unilaterally I would have done it a long time ago. … The way our system works is Congress has to pass legislation. I then get an opportunity to sign it and implement it.” (1/30/13)
5. “This is something I’ve struggled with throughout my presidency. The problem is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed. And Congress right now has not changed what I consider to be a broken immigration system. And what that means is that we have certain obligations to enforce the laws that are in place even if we think that in many cases the results may be tragic.” (2/14/13)
6. “I think that it is very important for us to recognize that the way to solve this problem has to be legislative. I can do some things and have done some things that make a difference in the lives of people by determining how our enforcement should focus. … And we’ve been able to provide help through deferred action for young people …. But this is a problem that needs to be fixed legislatively.” (7/16/13)
7. “My job in the executive branch is supposed to be to carry out the laws that are passed. Congress has said ‘here is the law’ when it comes to those who are undocumented, and they’ve allocated a whole bunch of money for enforcement. And, what I have been able to do is to make a legal argument that I think is absolutely right, which is that given the resources that we have, we can’t do everything that Congress has asked us to do. What we can do is then carve out the DREAM Act folks, saying young people who have basically grown up here are Americans that we should welcome. … But if we start broadening that, then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option. … What I’ve said is there is a there’s a path to get this done, and that’s through Congress.” (9/17/13)
8. “[I]f, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. And what I’m proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. … It is not simply a matter of us just saying we’re going to violate the law. That’s not our tradition. The great thing about this country is we have this wonderful process of democracy, and sometimes it is messy, and sometimes it is hard, but ultimately, justice and truth win out.” (11/25/13)
9. “I am the Champion-in-Chief of comprehensive immigration reform. But what I’ve said in the past remains true, which is until Congress passes a new law, then I am constrained in terms of what I am able to do. What I’ve done is to use my prosecutorial discretion, because you can’t enforce the laws across the board for 11 or 12 million people, there aren’t the resources there. What we’ve said is focus on folks who are engaged in criminal activity, focus on people who are engaged in gang activity. Do not focus on young people, who we’re calling DREAMers …. That already stretched my administrative capacity very far. But I was confident that that was the right thing to do. But at a certain point the reason that these deportations are taking place is, Congress said, ‘you have to enforce these laws.’ They fund the hiring of officials at the department that’s charged with enforcing. And I cannot ignore those laws any more than I could ignore, you know, any of the other laws that are on the books. That’s why it’s so important for us to get comprehensive immigration reform done this year.” (3/6/14)
10. “I think that I never have a green light [to push the limits of executive power]. I’m bound by the Constitution; I’m bound by separation of powers. There are some things we can’t do. Congress has the power of the purse, for example. … Congress has to pass a budget and authorize spending. So I don’t have a green light. … My preference in all these instances is to work with Congress, because not only can Congress do more, but it’s going to be longer-lasting.” (8/6/14)