Leah Durant, 6/18/2012 [Archive]

Obama's Amnesty Measure

Obama's Amnesty Measure

By Leah Durant

On Friday, June 15, 2012 President Obama issued an executive order of prosecutorial discretion that many are reading as a dubious circumvention around the Dream Act. Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be granted an amnesty from deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED diploma or certificate, or served in the military.Obama's program will grant work permits to those who fall under these criteria. Because grants can be renewed indefinitely, this measure inevitably ensures amnesty for hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants.

Obama's executive order resembles the much-stalled Dream Act that has been a topic of contention since the early 2000s.The Dream Act was originally envisioned as a bipartisan measure intended to provide some opportunities to children who had grown up in the US but did not enjoy legal status because of their parent's actions. The legislation had been derailed during numerous Congressional sessions because the federal government under both Bush and Obama failed to provide sufficient border security to make the Dream Act a viable political option.

Although Obama has not made sufficient headway in terms of either border security or immigration reform during his nearly four years in office, he still opted to push forward this unilateral shift in immigration policy.The administration estimates that this revision may affect 800,000 immigrants currently residing in the US.However, the Pew Hispanic Center hypothesizes that the number of people affected could actually reach 1.4 million people.Either way, the move would affect millions of unemployed Americans who will be forced to compete with this amnestied subgroup for jobs in the near future.

Such an amnesty, has a particularly disastrous effect on the low-wage, low-skilled labor markets.

Obviously, the economic recovery has not been as robust as analysts had hoped; leaving the low-skilled workforce especially vulnerable in this stagnate economy. Nearly a third of the nation's labor market has only a high school diploma. According to the Urban Institute, more than one in 10 of these workers lost their jobs between late 2007 and early 2011.Furthermore, a third of those job losses occurred since the recovery began in mid-2009. In May, the unemployment rate inched up to 8.2 percent, up from 8.1% from the previous month.This downward trend spells further disaster for the low-skilled workforce previously affected by recession layoffs. This demographic can ill afford the type of increased competition that Obama's amnesty guarantees.

Critics are raising concerns not only about the measure's impact on labor markets but also on its wording and enforcement. Some Congressional critics claim that the measure is worded too vaguely and would inspire countless fraudulent applications.The measure grants amnesty to those who have completed years of school but does not specifically define what 'schools' qualify for this measure.Additionally, ICE would have trouble verifying which grantees actually entered the US before the age of 16 and which applicants actually lived in the US for five continuous years. Such loose criterion practically welcomes rampant abuse.

Obama's executive order also engendered outrage from various quarters because of its unilateral nature. Although GOP front runner Mitt Romney used equivocal language when queried about the policy's substance, he did express disdain for Obama's procedural maneuvers."He was president for the last three-and-a-half years did nothing on immigration. Two years he had a Democrat House and Senate and did nothing ever permanent or long-term basis."

Romney also added that Obama overstepped his Constitutional authority and would have preferred to see Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Democratic Senators hash out a long term plan after careful debate.

This is just the latest example of how both parties have engaged in procedural usurpations of Congressional authority by mandating new, sweeping laws.The Obama administration had been previously critical of the Bush regime for its frequent utilization of signing statements to nullify key provisions of new laws and to mandate new decrees. In this case, Obama seems to be acting like his predecessor by creating a new legal category without obtaining any mandate or permission from Congress. Thus far, Romney has not declared that he would rescind the executive order if elected president in November.However, immigration reform will be a constant theme during this election year, as the Supreme Court is set to rule on the Arizona's enforcement bills. Hopefully, that ruling and future developments will help open up a dialogue on immigration policy.We should not accept any unilateral declarations on policy, especially when such declarations are poorly thought out and do not enjoy broad electorate support.

Leah Durant is Executive Director of Progressives for Immigration Reform, a non-profit organization seeking to educate the public on the unintended consequences of mass migration through research, advocacy and engagement. Emails may be sent to Ldurant@pfirdc.org

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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