Obama’s Immigration Nuclear Option: Stopping Deportations Unilaterally
Updated, 3:50 p.m.
The biggest obstacle facing immigration reform may be not opposition but inertia. Leaders of the House of Representatives have said they plan to act, but with the coming months likely to be consumed by budget drama, immigration could fall by the wayside.
If that happens, advocates of immigration reform have another idea: They’ll push Obama to press the button on the immigration-reform nuclear option.
The option commonly referred to by immigration reformers as “Plan B” would see the president take executive action to prevent undocumented immigrants from being deported — along the lines of the deferred-action program the administration created for “Dreamers” last year. It wouldn’t be a panacea, and it wouldn’t give them citizenship. But such an action could at least spare some from the constant threat of deportation. And perhaps just as important, it could exact major political revenge on Republicans, galvanizing the Hispanic electorate against them and further hurting their image with the fastest-growing segment of voters.
The idea gained some prominence earlier this month, when Republican Senator Marco Rubio mentioned it in a talk-radio interview: “I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, to issue an executive order as he did for the Dream Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen,” Rubio said.
Opponents of immigration reform howled that Rubio’s implied threat was a form of blackmail. But that’s exactly how reformers see the executive-order possibility — as the potential penalty if Congress does nothing. And as the legislation’s congressional prospects get ever dimmer, the buzz about Plan B gets louder. ”Some people feel like we need to cut our losses, legalize as many people as we can,” Juanita Molina of Humane Borders recently told National Journal.
Richard Morales, director of deportation prevention for the PICO National Network, confirmed that activists are prepared to turn their sights on the White House. “Organizers think long term, so they know that legislation is one way, but that DACA” — the June 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — “has proven that the administration can provide another way,” he told me in an email. The faith-based network’s “targeted deportation actions” highlighting the plight of individuals have already gotten five undocumented immigrants released from detention or spared deportation.
The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer recently examined the potential mechanics of a broad executive action halting deportations. A large number of legal experts endorsed DACA, though some conservatives argue it was unconstitutional. Depending on the extent of a broader action, a similar rationale — assigning certain cases lower-priority status based on prosecutorial discretion — could apply, but it would only give the undocumented a temporary reprieve and the ability to work legally, not permanent residency or citizenship.
Immigration advocates claim ‘resounding win’ in quiet August
Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are claiming victory in the August recess. Their argument? They won because they didn’t lose.
With legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled House, the push to overhaul the immigration system has not dominated the national headlines or evening news during the four weeks that Congress has been taking its annual summer vacation.
Proponents of reform say they entered the recess worried that foes of the effort would flood town-hall meetings and stage large rallies, in a repeat of the Tea Party uprising that threw the push for healthcare reform off track in the summer of 2009.Despite efforts by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and others, that dynamic hasn’t materialized.
“What’s more important than what we have seen is what we haven’t seen,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is advocating for immigration reform. “August was a resounding win for us.”
The conservative activist Grover Norquist, who is pushing for immigration reform, also cited the lack of major opposition as the dog that didn’t bark in August. “There’s nothing like that,” he told The Hill on Tuesday. “The anti-immigrant stuff is an inch deep and a mile wide.”
At the same time, the modest rallies in favor of reform have fallen short of a groundswell of support.
Advocates say they did not plan their own large-scale rallies but targeted their efforts to individual congressional districts, and they cited endorsements of a path to citizenship by a number of House Republicans as evidence of their success.
“We never approached August with the idea were going to move 100 House Republicans into the yes column,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for legislation that includes a path to citizenship.