Saturday, November 22, 2014

Immigration Critics Paint Themselves in a Corner with Cries of “Amnesty”

The President’s Executive Order deferring deportation for millions of unauthorized immigrants who may qualify for his plan is loudly derided by critics as “amnesty” or “executive amnesty” (I love Colbert’s take that the President wasn’t just satisfied with giving them “amnesty” he had to offer them “executive amnesty” – which must mean some special perks.)   

Critics have learned that if they can label something as “amnesty,” it will lose public support.  But when some of those same critics are asked what they would do – take, for example Cong. Tim Huelskamp’s recent awkward and painful squirming when asked that question on Bloomberg News – they have no answer.  They say they don’t support gestapo style mass deportations, but what can they support?  Well, they don’t know yet.  They just know they don’t support amnesty (defined in the broadest way imaginable) and they don’t support mass deportation, so what is left?  Apparently, the status quo, which means about 400,000 deportations a year, including thousands of non-criminal parents of U.S. citizens, immigrant children fleeing persecution and gang recruitment, and untold human suffering and family disintegration.

It isn’t as if critics haven’t been given a chance to do something.  A comprehensive bi-partisan Senate bill was passed over 500 days ago and sent to the House.  The President would have signed it.  The House refused even to allow a vote on the bill (and it had a good chance of passage).  And yet those same people are now saying that the President’s plan fails constitutionally because he won’t work cooperatively with Congress.

Something needed to be done and, frankly, it should have been done long before now.  A bandage was applied by executive action, but it’s Congress that needs to perform the surgery, if only they will. Instead, their plan seems to be to declare the President’s action unconstitutional, while offering nothing positive in return.

Rest assured, the executive order by the President is constitutional.  Without a doubt.   It was also constitutional two years ago when he, by executive order, granted deferred action to childhood arrivals (the “Dreamers”) to stay their deportations.  About 500,000 deserving immigrants benefitted from this.  Two times the constitutionality was challenged in the courts (in Texas and Florida).  Both times, courts found it constitutional, and the program continued.

If lawsuits are filed again, they will fail again.  Fox News commentator, Geraldo Rivera, stated on Fox News that he would stake “his mortgage” on the constitutionality of the executive action.  While I can’t afford that kind of wager, I feel the same.  By the way, there is a good 33 page legal opinion from legal counsel for the White House explaining the constitutionality of the action, and why they didn’t go as far as we might have wanted in the action.

So apart from lawsuits challenging constitutionality, what can critics do?  If everything short of deportation is “amnesty,” what to do?  That’s the problem.  They have said paying fines and staying is amnesty, long paths to legalization (17 years in the Senate bill) is amnesty, etc.  Anything except immediate removal from the country, regardless of how much social and economic damage that may do, is amnesty.   

In 2010, the Center for American Progress studied the effects and costs of mass deportation verses a comprehensive immigration strategy that provided a path to legalization.  The direct costs of deportation were about $285 billion (if it could even be done).  There would be a resulting economic impact in reducing our gross domestic product by $2.5 trillion over a ten year period.  In contrast, a program of legalization could increase GDP by a cumulative total of $1.5 trillion over that same ten year period.  Other studies have confirmed this impact as well.

That’s the economic impact of a “no amnesty” stance.  The social impact is much worse as families are torn apart and exploited.  Neither our economy nor our national character can take a hit of this magnitude.

Yet we all know that amnesty is unacceptable, or is it?

A wonderful friend from church told me once that he loved immigrants, but could never accept amnesty.  And I said, “why not?” “What is your problem with forgiveness?”  I’m still wondering that.  Christians believe in forgiveness (and if we don’t, then we don’t have much to offer the world).  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  “Trespass” is an appropriate word to use in the Lord’s Prayer in this context.  Apparently, we have a really hard time forgiving those who trespass over that which we have trespassed before them.

Whatever flaws there are in the executive action (and it’s certainly no complete or lasting solution to the immigration issues), Congress can supersede the President’s action by enacting positive legislation in the area. 

Congress, it’s time to grow up and work on a solution that recognizes the dignity of the good people that work among us, marry our children, and worship with us, while setting future policy that meets the needs of families, workers, and employers in the U.S.