Summer Sale Extended! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
Op-Eds
News Opinion Op-Eds

President holds trump card on immigration

President Barack Obama is tantalizingly close to passing comprehensive immigration reform, a legacy achievement. The Senate has provided a bipartisan bill, and the House is working on reform. The key issues are border security and a legal pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million who are here illegally.

The political reasons for the House to negotiate a deal are many. A recent Gallup poll showed that 87 percent of Americans support comprehensive reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. Moreover, growing numbers of Latino voters in key states turned out in historic numbers for Mr. Obama in last year's election, which strongly suggests that, in the long run, Republicans need to address this constituency or continue to lose votes.

However, Speaker John A. Boehner, the Republicans' point man in the House, doesn't have the luxury of operating in the long term. The conservative bloc of House Republicans is digging in against reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, and with what promises to be a bloody spending fight with Democrats looming, the speaker needs to strengthen his position with his conference.

It's no wonder the speaker has instructed his committee chairmen to send up smaller, incremental bills for consideration, with a final decision on the path forward to come this fall.

Regardless of what Mr. Boehner and the committee chairmen come up with, most of the millions of unauthorized immigrants here now will almost surely stay, because it is expensive and time-consuming to deport them. The immigration enforcement system is currently funded to deport roughly 400,000 immigrants a year, funding that's unlikely to increase in difficult budgetary times, and it can take years to get many cases in front of immigration judges.

In part for those reasons, the Department of Homeland Security does not treat all deportations equally. In recent years, the agency has expanded its use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement, focusing on recent border crossings and public safety threats. Today, deportations of immigrants with strong connections to the U.S. are unlikely.

Indeed, prosecutorial discretion is a guiding principle of this administration's immigration enforcement policy. With it, the administration has moved immigration enforcement from an ad hoc system in which individuals are removed indiscriminately to one that prioritizes criminals, recent border crossers and fugitives. In 2012, 96 percent of all removals were based on these priorities. Opponents of the policy call it amnesty, but with limited resources, it's obvious why an agency charged with protecting the homeland is focusing its deportation efforts on national security and public safety.

For Mr. Obama, expanding prosecutorial discretion in deportations has been good policy and politics. It might just be the trump card he needs to bring House Republicans to the negotiating table.

Last summer, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which established the first program in which a subset of those here illegally could come forward and register with the government. If you were brought here as a child, are currently in school or the military and have no criminal record, you can get protection from deportation and you can petition for work authorization.

This program, aimed at so-called Dreamers, triggered a wave of enthusiasm in the Latino community, and many political analysts believe it helped the president weather 50 percent disapproval ratings last summer and win a historic 75 percent of the Latino vote in November. Nearly 520,000 people have received relief under this program since it was announced.

Now the president should turn again to this playbook and expand the program to other sympathetic categories of immigrants, such as those with a longtime presence in the United States or those with U.S.-citizen family members. The legal parameters and operational protocols have been established, and because this program, like the original Deferred Action program, would be funded from immigrants' fees, it would not require a congressional appropriation. An expanded Deferred Action program could be up and running within weeks.

Of course, those committed to defeating reform would trot out the tired criticism that the president doesn't enforce the laws on the books. They conveniently forget that both parties share the blame for the current system, and they ignore the record-low estimates of border crossing attempts and the record-high number of deportations. (A recent Pew Hispanic Center analysis found net migration from Mexico has fallen to zero in recent years.) Nothing the administration does would change their minds.

It is a near-certainty that expansion of prosecutorial discretion will occur if the House defeats all reform efforts or the House and Senate can't reach an agreement. Perhaps the president can force negotiations by reminding critics that, in the absence of real reform, a president — any party's president — still has to govern. For Mr. Boehner and the House GOP, the alternative to negotiating would be expanding "amnesty" without any of the security and business enhancements that the Republicans want and the nation desperately needs.

If the president acts boldly, he might be able to wrest a bill from Congress that could establish his legacy and, more important, secure the real immigration policy changes this country needs.

Nelson Peacock is a vice president with Cornerstone Government Affairs in Washington and the former assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the Department of Homeland Security. This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • U.S. not alone in birthright citizenship

    U.S. not alone in birthright citizenship

    The local front man for anti-immigrant hysteria thinks it is time to change the 14th Amendment and myriad Supreme Court precedents to exclude children of non-citizens born in the United States from birthright citizenship ("Illegal immigration is costly," Aug. 24). He neglects to mention that the...

  • Don't cheerlead for foreign worker visa expansion

    Don't cheerlead for foreign worker visa expansion

    I am not comfortable with the H-2B foreign worker visa program, yet The Sun reported a flattering, one-sided report on its expansion, giving credit to Sen. Barbara Mikulski for "cutting red tape" to once again rescue her major campaign donors in the landscaping and seafood industries ("Md. seafood...

  • What is immigration costing Md.?

    What is immigration costing Md.?

    I read with interest The Sun's article, "More school money sought" (Jan. 12). The article notes that the superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools is requesting an 8.7 percent increase in the school budget. In part, the increase is needed due to "an influx of children in need" and "to hire...

  • Let's show compassion for young immigrants [Letter]

    Let's show compassion for young immigrants [Letter]

    Maryland saw an influx of unaccompanied children from Central America this summer. Today, we have more than 3,000 of these kids. I'm glad Maryland is harboring, them but each has a sword of Damocles over his or her head ("Montgomery Co. is latest to limit immigration detainers," Oct. 7). As Customs...

  • Trump is right about immigration

    Trump is right about immigration

    It comes as no surprise that The Sun's editorial board has jumped on the anti-Donald Trump bandwagon trumpeting the usual racist label when they have no other legitimate counter argument ("The summer of hate," July 13). The editors obviously have not read nor comprehended the scope of the 1996...

  • Immigration standoff

    Immigration standoff

    There is something truly unsavory about targeting for deportation immigrant children — particularly those known by the shorthand of "dreamers" who were brought to this country at a young age by their parents — but that was the priority of House Republicans last week. Not all in the GOP went along,...

  • We need data, not guesses on the economics of immigration

    We need data, not guesses on the economics of immigration

    John Fritze and Luke Broadwater's article "Baltimore weighs in on immigration lawsuit" ("Jan. 24) does an excellent job of identifying some of the potential economic pros and cons of undocumented immigrants living in our communities. It discusses "a federal lawsuit that has divided state and local...

  • Democrats side with foreigners

    Democrats side with foreigners

    Democrats are telling Republicans to put the American people first and pass a clean Department of Homeland Security funding bill because Democratic senators will not accept anything other than a clean bill ("Congress OKs deal to avoid shutdown at Homeland Security," Feb. 27). Republicans say they...

Comments
Loading
77°