By NICOLE POTTINGER – STAFF WRITER
The United States, known as a “melting pot” of ethnicities, races, and cultures, should theoretically have one of the strongest immigration policies of the Western world. However, in the three-branch structure of Congress, important pieces of legislature can be held up due to disagreements not only between the Senate and the House of Representatives, but also between Congress and the President. On Nov. 20, 2014, President Barack Obama publicly announced his use of executive action authority to offer legal status to illegal immigrants. President Obama intends to increase accountability of immigrants using three primary actions: increasing security on illegal immigration at the border, deport felons rather than families, and to hold accountable undocumented immigrants by ensuring they pass a background check and pay taxes.
This piece of legislature, namely the use of executive action, has been viewed as controversial by a number of major media outlets, including NBC, CBS, and FOX News. Pierce and Amelia Harrington Lively Professor of Politics and Law and Chair of the Politics Program Dr. Dan Stroup explained that it is important to keep everything in perspective.
“It’s not the most dramatic use that’s ever been made of executive power. Lincoln freed slaves as [an act of] executive order,” Dr. Stroup said.
Dr. Stroup explained that there is a “real polarization” on the question of immigration, and as of right now, “there is a sense that the system isn’t working.”
Senior Parker Lawson believes that Obama’s use of executive action should not have been a surprise.
“Now I feel like President Obama has nothing to lose in his last two years in office, and he’s starting to act on things that were resonant in his 2008 campaign, such as immigration,” Lawson said.
However, the executive action taken by Obama is not the end-all-be-all of the immigration discussion in the American political sphere. There is a very real possibility that after the results of the midterm election, which gave Republicans a majority in the Senate and House of Representatives, the discussion is just beginning.
“I think the midterm elections suggest that there will be attempts to slow or halt the legislation put forth by the executive action” Lawson said. “Whether or not that will prove wholly successful remains to be seen.”
Many news outlets are focusing their discussion on Obama’s motivation for the use of executive action, rather than the policy itself. Assistant Professor of History Dr. Jonathon Earle feels that there are four main reasons for President Obama’s use of executive action.
“First, the action was politically self-serving. Latino voters have historically voted for the Democratic Party, so there is something to be said about being able to maintain political power. It is also a philosophical issue, because America is often seen as a nation of immigrants,” Dr. Earle said. “[Obama] is also doing this as a critique of congress and congress’ unwillingness and reluctance to talk about immigration reform. Finally, the border challenges among youth that developed this past summer at the border of Texas and Mexico really raise the stakes regarding the issue.”
Regardless of the President’s motivation, his action opens the door to further conversations regarding the nature of immigration in America. Dr. Stroup professed his concern regarding the way immigrants are labeled, and believes, “…we need to create new legal categories to cover people who don’t really fit into any of the existing categories. They are people who have made contributions, and we need another legal status/classification to regularize the relationship.”
Lawson is more concerned about the impact these discussions will have on immigrants themselves. “Immigration covers a broad variety of people, backgrounds, and to frame our conversation about immigration, we have to recognize the complexity and the tendency to cast immigration as a dualistic experience, either something that is great or something that is inherently evil,” Lawson said.
Immigration is an important topic when it comes to not only the rights of people who reside in America, but also when election time rolls around. “Republican activists are increasingly aware that demographic trajectories are shifting, and if they’re going to secure a presidential election, there has to be a similar shift in their political posture,” Dr. Earle said.
Overall, it is important to recognize the impact President Obama’s executive action has had on the topic of immigration. Only time will tell if the exact piece of legislation Obama passed will get enacted, but as for America’s policy regarding immigration, many see this as a step in the right direction.