Is Obama an ‘Emperor’ or ‘Savior’ on Immigration?

New York Times Editorial Page: “The result will not be ideal, but no broad executive action on immigration was ever going to be. Only Congress can create an immigration system that rescues workers and families from unjust laws and creates legal pathways to citizenship. The best Mr. Obama can offer is a reprieve to people trapped by Congress’s failures — temporary permission to live and work without fear.”

The editors note that Republicans didn’t “complain when Mr. Obama aggressively used his executive authority to ramp up deportations to an unprecedented peak of 400,000 a year.”

Brian Beutler writes that Republican rage doesn’t make Obama’s actions unlawful: “It turns out that the laws on the books actually don’t say what you might think they say. Other presidents have discovered this, too. And since nobody wants to write a ‘maybe I should’ve asked some lawyers first’ mea culpa column, they shifted the debate from the terrain of laws to the murkier terrain of political precedent, norms, and procedure.”

Danny Vinik points out that Reagan and Bush also acted unilaterally on immigration, adding: “As long as Obama, or any president, for that matter, is implementing the law in line with congressional prioritiesas I believe Obama ishis actions are legal.”

But Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg cautions: “If Obama is not departing from norms in this case, he certainly looks to be pushing the line … We don’t have a functioning Congress, and we do have millions of people living in limbo. It’s not hard to understand why Obama is doing this, and perhaps party relations in Washington really can’t get much worse. But I think they will.”

Is ‘The Nice Guy’ Clouding Abuse of Executive Authority?

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post: “Every Democrat should be nervous about President Obama’s plan for unilateral action on immigration reform.”

“Democrats should be nervous about the implications for presidential power, and the ability of a future Republican president to act on his or her own.”

“For me, the question is one of double containment: First, is there a limiting principle that would constrain the president’s authority to effectively legalize everyone in the country? Second, is there a limiting principle that would constrain future presidents inclined against enforcing other laws with which they don’t agree — and on which they’ve been unable to convince Congress to act accordingly?”

Damon Linker of the Week adds: “The rule of law is far more about how things are done than about what is done … I will be deeply troubled about how the president went about achieving this goal — by violating the letter and the spirit of federal law.”

“What is so galling about the president’s pending circumvention of federal immigration law is that the White House hasn’t even attempted to justify it on grounds of necessity — no doubt because any effort to do so would be risible. The nation obviously faces no immigration emergency that could possibly justify the kind of extralegal action that Obama is contemplating.”

“Have we really gotten to the point where the executive can ignore and even violate, on the absurdly open-ended basis of ‘discretion,’ the express intent of a federal law he is constitutionally empowered to execute — not because of an emergency, not because of a national threat, but merely because he wants to be a nice guy?”

Most Want Obama to Wait On Immigration Action

USA Today: “President Obama’s plan to sign an executive order on immigration, expected as early as this week, will meet more resistance than support, a new USA TODAY Poll finds. Close to half of those surveyed, 46%, say he should wait for the new Republican-controlled Congress to act, and another one in 10 are unconvinced either way.”

“On the issue of immigration, Democrats overwhelmingly want Obama to take action now, 60%-28%. Republicans by an even wider margin want him to wait, 76%-17%. Independents split with 44% supporting acting now, 46% endorsing delay.”

Rich Countries Should Want More Immigrants

Noah Smith contends that the best immigration policy is more immigration.

“We have lots of measures that indicate that Hispanics — our biggest immigrant ethnic group, by far — are assimilating at rapid rates, whether measured by language, college enrollment, intermarriage and even racial identity. There seems to be no reason to believe that Asians — whose immigration rate now exceeds that of Hispanics by more than 38 percent — will be any different.”

“The type of immigration matters a lot. As [Reihan Salam of the National Review] documents in an earlier piece for National Review, unskilled immigrants assimilate more slowly than highly skilled ones, and often lack opportunities for many generations. This drives inequality, in addition to the simple economic fact that importing unskilled labor puts downward pressure on the wages of lower-income Americans while pushing up the earnings of wealthy Americans.”

Tyler Cowen: “Ensuring a growing American population will probably require immigration reform…And while American leaders rarely talk openly about it, they may have geopolitical reasons for not wanting this country to be too much smaller, population-wise, than China.”


Executive Action on Immigration Right Now is Not Sound Strategy

Andrew Sullivan contends that Obama’s threat of unilateral executive action on immigration is not an “effective strategy.”

“The threat makes sense as a way to bring the GOP to the table, but not if he fully intends to follow through before the end of the year regardless. Instead of forcing the GOP to come up with a compromise bill … he’d merely recast the debate around whether he is a ‘lawless dictator’, etc etc. rather than whether it is humane or rational to keep millions of people in illegal limbo indefinitely. It would strengthen those dead-ender factions in the House that are looking for an excuse to impeach. It would unify the GOP on an issue where it is, in fact, deeply divided. And it would not guarantee a real or durable solution to the clusterfuck.”

“It makes much more sense to me for Obama to ask the GOP for a major legislative proposal before he takes any unilateral action. If they fail to do so – and it’s perfectly possible they do, given intense divisions within their ranks – then Obama’s executive action makes much more sense and can be defended much more easily, as a response to Congressional failure.”

“What I’m saying is that he should precisely ‘wait’ some more before acting on this.”

Immigration Surge as a Sign of Improving Economy?

Wall Street Journal: “A strengthening U.S. economy has spurred the largest pickup in immigration since before the recession, driven by Asian newcomers and a gain in Hispanic arrivals.”

“The number of foreign-born people in the U.S. grew by 523,400 last year, according to the Census Bureau. That beat the previous year’s net gain of roughly 446,800 and is the biggest official jump since 2006.”

“The census data show that six years after the recession began, America is restoring its reputation as an economic beacon among immigrants, even as other nations, including in Asia, become more attractive. If demand for high-skilled workers grows and Hispanic immigration revives, that could also mean U.S. businesses are feeling more bullish about the economy’s prospects.”

“’Some of the things limiting immigration in recent years—a bad job market, less demand for workers—is easing,’ said demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution, who analyzed the census data.”

Delaying Immigration Action Weakens Executive Powers

Brian Beutler argues that it was a mistake for President Obama to delay action on deportation relief.

With the prospect of a Republican Senate, it will be more difficult for Obama to take executive action.

“He will still be bound by his modified pledge to announce deportation relief before the end of the year, but will have to act in the aftermath of an election Republicans just won opposing what they tendentiously describe as ‘executive amnesty.’ They’ll rewrite the story of their victory around their position on deportation.”

“Obviously that won’t imbue them with the magic power to prevent Obama from moving forward anyhow. But it might spook Obama into doing nothing at all (there won’t be enough pearls for the centrist commentariat to clutch). And it will definitely encourage conservative hardliners to place ‘executive amnesty’ at the center of proximate fights over funding the government and increasing the debt limit. That might bode poorly for Republican presidential hopefuls. But for the families who were promised deportation relief, it spells danger.”

Americans Shift Focus to Non-Economic Issues

Gallup: “Americans say the government, immigration, and the economy in general are the most important problems currently facing the country. Mentions of government and the economy have been at the top of the list since the beginning of the year, while mentions of immigration rose sharply in July, in response to the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, and remain high this month.”

“Now that the economy appears to be recovering, as evidenced by positive signals such as a six-year high in Gallup’s Job Creation Index and increased consumer spending, non-economic issues such as government and immigration have become greater concerns to Americans.”

Recent Trend in Top Three "Most Important" U.S. Problems

Immigration Surges to Top of Most Important U.S. Problem

Gallup: “With thousands of undocumented immigrant minors crossing the nation’s southern border in recent months, the percentage of Americans citing immigration as the top problem has surged to 17% this month, up from 5% in June, and the highest seen since 2006. As a result, immigration now virtually ties ‘dissatisfaction with government,’ at 16%, as the primary issue Americans think of when asked to name the country’s top problem.”

“Americans’ perception of the main problem ailing the country continued its gradual shift away from the economy in July, while healthcare is also fading as a top-of-mind concern. At the same time, immigration has clearly captured public attention given the political and humanitarian crisis building at the border …”

Percentage Naming Immigration as the United States' Most Important Problem

More Americans Would Decrease Immigration Than Increase

Gallup:”Fewer than one in four Americans favor increased immigration.”

“The small amount of Americans who favor increased immigration include just 14% of Republicans. In fact, more Americans think immigration should be decreased than increased, and by a nearly two-to-one margin, 41% vs. 22%. A third in the U.S. are satisfied with the level as it is.”

Should Immigration Increase, Decrease, or Stay at Current Levels

“However, the Gallup trend also chronicles a separate narrative: a steady increase in public support for increasing immigration, rising from 10% in 1999 to 21% in 2012 and 22% today.”

Bottom Line: “Immigration is central to who Americans are as a people, and what the United States represents, and by and large Americans view immigration as positive for the country. But deciding how many new immigrants to welcome each year can be controversial, particularly when unemployment is high, and seeming competition for good jobs already fierce.”