President Obama announces executive action on Immigration

Daily News Article   —   Posted on November 21, 2014

obama-exec.action-immig

NOTE:  An executive order is a directive from the president that has much of the same power as a federal law. And like a federal law, Congress can pass a new law to override an executive order, subject to a presidential veto. (Read more under “Background”)

(CBS, Dallas/Fort Worth) AP – Sidestepping Congress, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday steps he will take to shield up to 5 million immigrants illegally in the United States from deportation, defying Republican lawmakers by using executive orders. (See “Background” below questions for explanation of executive orders/executive action)

Obama, in a video released on Facebook, said he would make his announcement from the White House at 7 p.m. (Central) on Thursday, then would travel to Las Vegas to promote the plan Friday.

He said while everyone agrees the immigration system is broken, Washington has allowed the problem “to fester for too long.” “What I’m going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system better, even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem,” Obama said.

As many as 5 million people in the country illegally would be spared from deportation and made eligible for work permits. But the eligible immigrants would not be entitled to federal benefits — including health care tax credits — under the plan, officials said Wednesday.

Obama was to speak at Las Vegas’ Del Sol High School, a school with a large population of non-English speaking students where he unveiled his blueprint for comprehensive immigration legislation in 2013.

Republicans are vehemently opposed to the president’s likely actions, with some conservative members threatening to pursue a government shutdown if Obama follows through on his promises to act before the end of the year.

A wide-ranging immigration bill passed the Democrat-controlled Senate last year, but stalled in the Republican-led House. Obama vowed [he would] change the immigration system using his own authority [executive orders] by the summer but delayed the measures until after the midterm elections, in part because of concerns from some Democrats facing tough races [that they would lose if he took this action on his own].

Democrats still lost control of the Senate in the midterm balloting.

One official familiar with the administration’s planning said the beneficiaries of Obama’s new executive action would be treated in the same manner as those immigrants who were shielded from deportation and who became eligible for work permits under an Obama directive in 2012. The 2012 executive action deferred deportations for immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children…. Those immigrants covered by the 2012 action, called Dreamers by their advocates, can obtain work permits but are not eligible for food stamps, federal welfare benefits or disability benefits under the SSI. They also are ineligible for tax credits under Obama’s health care law, though they can buy health coverage at full price on the exchanges created by the law. They may be eligible for public benefits provided by some states, however.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday that Obama’s executive actions will be comprehensive and include border security measures. He said he believes that immigration changes that Obama will announce are not only legal but needed in light of inaction by Congress on immigration. …

House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman criticized Obama’s plans, noting that the president himself has said in the past that he is not “emperor” and is limited in his ability to act on his own.

“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his Constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue – and many others,” the spokesman, Michael Steel, said.

Astrid Silva, an organizer for the liberal group Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the president “has a duty to keep his promise and use his full legal authority to take action where Congress has failed.” The group said the White House has been in touch with Nevada activists about the trip.

…By timing his announcement for the Friday before Thanksgiving, with Congress on recess all of next week, President Obama gives the public some time to react to his announcement before Congress has a chance to respond.

From an Associated Press report. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CBS Local Dallas Fort-Worth. Visit the website at dfw.cbslocal .com.

Questions

NOTE TO STUDENTS: This is a controversial issue for many Americans. Be polite to those with whom you disagree when discussing these types of issues and always give the other person a chance to explain his/her point of view. Also, learn how to recognize when it is no longer productive to discuss an issue on which you strongly disagree.

1. Various news reports state that President Obama will sign executive orders; others refer to them as executive actions.   The terms executive action and executive order are not interchangeable.
a) What is an executive order? Be specific.
b) What is an executive action?

2. What executive orders will President Obama give on the millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally?

3. Why is President Obama essentially giving millions of illegal immigrants amnesty by executive order?

4. President Obama had promised he would use executive orders on immigration by the end of the summer. Why did he wait until the middle of November?

5. a) How did Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s spokesman refer to President Obama in relation to this announcement?
b) Read the “Background” and check out the “Resources” below. What do you think of the spokesman’s assertion? Is it fair or out of line? Explain your answer.

6. Consider what President Obama said, in his own words:

October 2010: In an interview on Univision:

“My cabinet has been working very hard on trying to get it done, but ultimately, I think somebody said the other day, I am president, I am not king,” Obama told Univision in October 2010, when asked why he had yet to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.

March 2011: Remarks by the President Univision Townhall:
(see the video below under “Resources”)

“America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the President, am obligated to enforce the law. I don’t have a choice about that. That’s part of my job. But I can advocate for changes in the law so that we have a country that is both respectful of the law but also continues to be a great nation of immigrants. … With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed …. [W]e’ve got three branches of government. Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws. There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.”

“I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books …. Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you. Not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.”

January 2013: Pres. Obama Defends Deportation Record:

“I’m not a king. My job as the head of the executive branch ultimately is to carry out the law,” Obama told Telemundo. “When it comes to enforcement of our immigration laws, we’ve got some discretion. We can prioritize what we do. But we can’t simply ignore the law.”

Do you think these remarks contradict President Obama’s actions announced on Thursday? Explain your answer.

7. Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is the Senate Republican Whip, and the ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security. In a Nov. 20 commentary he wrote:

Though the president promised he would tackle immigration reform with Congress during his first year in office, his record has instead been a series of empty promises and unilateral policy changes that have produced disastrous results. Because of his decisions to bypass the legislative branch and the rule of law, we have seen thousands of deportable criminals, including many with violent records, released from immigration detention. We also saw a genuine humanitarian crisis unfold along our southern border, as tens of thousands of Central American minors — motivated at least in part by President Obama’s non-enforcement of U.S. immigration law — made a treacherous journey in order to cross illegally into the United States.

The likely results of President Obama’s unilateral action are all too predictable. A new amnesty program would send an even louder message to the world that the United States does not enforce its laws. It would prompt more people in Central America to pay smugglers, human traffickers, and drug cartels for transportation through Mexico. It would also harm legal immigration by pushing those who have followed the rules to the back of the line.

So I would ask the president: Why would we want to again encourage young people to make one of the most dangerous migration journeys anywhere in the world? Why would we want to empower the brutal criminals who control Mexico’s smuggling networks? And why would we want to unfairly punish those seeking to immigrate legally?

a) Are these fair questions?  Explain your answer.

b) Senator Cornyn also wrote in is commentary:

Failing to get his way in Congress does not give President Obama the right to go around Congress. The American people strongly oppose his executive amnesty… (Read Sen. Cornyn’s entire commentary at: nationalreview.com/node/393061/print)

Do you agree with these assertions? Do you think President Obama is overstepping his presidential authority? Explain your answer.


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Background

ON EXECUTIVE ORDERS:

Various news reports state that President Obama signed executive orders; others refer to them as executive actions.  The difference is:

  • A presidential executive order is a directive issued to federal agencies, department heads, or other federal employees by the President under his statutory or constitutional powers.
  • Executive orders are legally binding and published in the Federal Register, though they also can be reversed by the courts and Congress.
  • The terms executive action and executive order are not interchangeable.
  • Executive actions are any informal proposals or moves by the president. The term executive action itself is vague and can be used to describe almost anything the president calls on Congress or his administration to do. But most executive actions carry no legal weight. Those that do actually set policy can be invalidated by the courts or undone by legislation passed by Congress.
  • Executive memoranda are similar to executive orders in that they carry legal weight allowing the president to direct government officials and agencies. But executive memoranda are typically not published in the Federal Register unless the president determines the rules have “general applicability and legal effect.” (from about .com)

“America does not stand still, and neither will I,” Obama said. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

So how is an executive order different from a law? According to USA.gov, the federal government’s official website, “presidents use executive orders to direct and manage how the federal government operates.”

The executive order is a directive from the president that has much of the same power as a federal law. And like a federal law, Congress can pass a new law to override an executive order, subject to a presidential veto.

With the Democrats controlling the Senate, the chance of a successful veto of an executive order would be slim at best. For its part, the Supreme Court can overrule an order in the same way it would find a law unconstitutional.

In historical terms, there have been significant decisions made via executive order or its ancestor, the presidential proclamation.

President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War using a presidential proclamation, and two orders comprised Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

President Franklin Roosevelt established internment camps during World War II using Executive Order 9066. Roosevelt also used an executive order to create the Works Progress Administration. (blog.constitutioncenter.org)

…How far-reaching have Obama’s orders and actions been and how do they compare to what other presidents have done?

  • On immigration, the president has signed orders to halt the deportation of those who came to the U.S. when they were young, those who care for children and those who haven’t committed crimes. He’s also started to allow some relatives of U.S. service members living here illegally to stay. There’s more to come…
  • Obama has also signed far reaching orders on climate change in November 2013 – forcing power plants to cut their emissions by 30 percent by 2030 – which will be much discussed in this year’s elections.
  • The president has instigated 23 separate executive orders on gun control…
  • Through his executive powers, Obama has slowly extended the rights for same-sex couples
  • and raised the minimum wage for federal workers to $10.10. (from a July 10 washpost blog post)