Obama: Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already had live in our country. I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we’re also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable, especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why over the past six years deportations of criminals are up 80 percent, and that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day….[purposely skipping portion] Now here is the thing. We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve with been in America more than five years. If you have children who are American citizens or illegal 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. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.
Breakdown: This is where the President steps into murky waters. On the one hand, he is appealing to the segment of America that uses the term illegal immigrant while, on the other hand, tries to mollify those that use undocumented immigrant. He says, “Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws.” Then he says, “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children.” According to Title 8 Section 1325, anyone entering the United States without proper inspection has committed a crime. It is a misdemeanor. He is correct in saying that they broke the law. That these immigrants do not have documents matters nothing.
Every person here that has either overstayed their visa or are considered “Entry Without Inspection” (EWI)–the technical term for crossing the border illegally–has a Federal criminal misdemeanor on their record. If these people are expected to pass a criminal background check, they will fail. A misdemeanor is a misdemeanor. Adrian Peterson is suspended without pay for a misdemeanor. I do not wish to get into the argument of spanking or not spanking your child (switch or not), but want to point out that he is without pay until at least April 15, 2015 for a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor DUI is enough to cause you to not gain employment when your background is checked; your admission to a university, or scholarship could be withdrawn or not given. Source. According to a Time Magazine article, something as seemingly innocuous as a misdemeanor driving with a suspended license “can trigger the same legal hindrances, known as collateral consequences, as felonies.” Source.
In this light, not a single illegal immigrant would be able to pass a background check. The President acknowledges they committed a crime, but is that crime enough to warrant their denial to access to his plan?
If the answer is no, then is the President attempting to re-write a law that he says these immigrants broke? Is the Federal misdemeanor of EWI to be ignored? If so, what other misdemeanors are to be ignored? Should Adrian Peterson be reinstated immediately and his private life ignored? Should a person with a DUI be allowed to operate a bus for a local municipality?
If the misdemeanor issue was not messy enough, Obama then says, “Felons, not families.” According to U.S. Immigration law, anyone who was deported from the United States and then attempts to enter is guilty of a felony crime. How many of these parents fall into this category? How many fathers tried to come to the U.S., got caught, were deported, came back in and started a family? The question becomes complicated again. Which felonies are okay and not okay? Can we pick and choose which laws we are going to obey and not? President Obama would argue, from this speech, that we cannot just pick and choose. “We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules.” So, in this light, a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor and a felony is a felony. These immigrants cannot pass a simple background check.
Obama: Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you. I know some of the critics of the action call it amnesty. Well, it’s the not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today. Millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. That’s the real amnesty, leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary it to our character. What I’m describing is accountability. A common sense middle- ground approach. If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.
Breakdown: The murk gets thicker here, however, there are some truths that should be acknowledged: Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary it [sic] to our character. Mass amnesty would grant certain rights to people that as a society we would deem unfit for our nation–felons, gang member, etc. Mass deportation would be akin to herding cats and has the danger of also rounding up people who are in the U.S. legally.
Unfortunately, when the President says that it is not amnesty, it is. Amnesty is defined as:
1. a general pardon of offenses, especially political offenses, against a government, often granted before any trial or conviction.
2. Law. an act of forgiveness for past offenses, especially to a class of persons as a whole.
3. a forgetting or overlooking of any past offense.
Obama admits that these immigrants are breaking American law. Then we are giving them a means to “get right with the law.” We are forgiving their past offenses, especially if we are to ignore the misdemeanor EWI in their background check. But, the President is correct when he says that the real amnesty is our current system. Though we are not forgiving past offenses, we definitely are overlooking them. But this applies to both the immigrant and the employers hiring them.
One sentence in Obama’s speech leads to a possible conclusion that the President is not sure that his policy is even legal: Only Congress can do that. In this one statement, the President is admitting that Congress has the legal authority to write immigration law. Though he states that his policy is not intended to grant citizenship or right to stay permanently, there is little in either his speech or Senate Bill 744 that deals with people who opt out of the program.
Obama: The actions I’m taken are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic president for the past half century. And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.
Breakdown: If the President is going to use the playground rule, “He did it, so can I” then he better use it correctly. Saying that previous presidents used Executive Orders to get things done is like lighting a short fuse on a bomb glued to your hand. Just because other Presidents used an executive order does not make it a good policy. In 1942, FDR issued Executive Order (EO) 9066 which made it possible for the U.S. to send thousands of American citizens of Japanese decent into internment camps scattered throughout the American west. George W. Bush took the EO powers to frightening level with EO 13233 effectively throwing government transparency out the door, and Bill Clinton’s EO 13107 made it so the Executive branch could enforce UN treaties within America without Congress’ consent. This is what happens when one person rules unchecked.
Another problem with the President’s claim that other’s before him issues EO’s regarding immigrations is fraught with half-truths and distortions. If we go back a half-century there are three examples of a President using EO’s in dealing with immigration. In 1956, President Eisenhower used EOs to expand the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Refugee Relief Act whose quotas prevented adopted children of Americans working internationally to bring their children home with them. In the same year, Ike used a provision within the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act to grant close to 32,000 Hungarian war refugees temporary admittance into the United States. In 1960, he used the same law to aid Cuban refugees. None of these actions used EOs to create new laws, but worked within the bounds of ones already established.
One of the biggest issues with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was that it was intentionally vague on the status of mixed eligibility families. At the urging of Congress, Reagan used his EO powers to fix this problem for some 100,000 families. In 1990, George H.W. Bush used his EO powers to scrap the Reagan EO and created a means for not only the children ignored in the 1986 Act to be secured, but also the spouses of these people. Though somewhat similar, neither Presidential EO acted independently of Congress as President Obama is threatening to do. You can read more on these at FactCheck.org.
You can read Part III here