The president has executive powers to provide undocumented workers with some temporary relief.
President Obama is closing in on a record. Sometime around the end of this year, he will have deported 2 million undocumented immigrants, more than any other president.
Enough, already. The Obama administration should put the brakes on its deportation train. The president has the authority to offer temporary relief from immigration removals. With reform stalled, the president ought to stop trying to appease Republicans by being strong on immigration enforcement. He should consider executive action.
Obama has options to allow undocumented immigrants to live without the threat of deportation. Remember, this impacts only immigrants already here. He could end the controversial Secure Communities program, which turns local law enforcement officers into immigration agents. He could let more immigrants qualify for temporary protected status, which provides them with work and residence permits. In 2010, a leaked memo from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revealed that the agency was exploring "meaningful immigration reform absent legislative action." Though an agency spokesman later characterized the memo as an "internal draft," the legality of such measures was not in question.
The president's most practical route to fewer deportations would be to broaden the number of immigrants eligible for deferred action. In 2012, his administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, aimed at helping those brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Not only has the program allowed 455,000 young immigrants the freedom to live and work openly, it has withstood legal challenges as well. The Washington Post has noted that this program could be expanded to include other discrete classes of people, such as the parents of citizen children, victims of domestic abuse, or whistle-blowers.
Show some courage
Although Obama said last month on Telemundo that expanding the program would be "very difficult to defend legally," that is not true; it would just be very difficult to defend politically. Immigration reform activists have engaged in civil disobedience nationwide. Isn't it time the president display similar courage?
"I believe this president will be tempted ... to issue an executive order," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in August, "like he did for the DREAM Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen." The website PolitiFact judged this statement "mostly false." On his own, the president cannot offer citizenship, a path to citizenship, or permanent relief from deportation. He can take limited action to make our system more humane.
True, any executive action on immigration will anger conservative lawmakers. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., told USA TODAY that this "would effectively kill immigration reform." Yet Goodlatte and other House Republicans are already effectively killing immigration reform with their inaction. A unilateral move by the president might goad GOP lawmakers into actual legislating.
If Obama believes immigration reform still has a chance, he should not be deporting those who might be eligible for a path to citizenship. If he has given up on reform, he has every reason to move ahead with executive action. Either way, the right choice is to cut back on deportations.
Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
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