“We’ve Adapted Before, And We’ll Adapt Again”: Immigrants’ Energy And Vitality Ought To Be Celebrated
“This is a blessing from God.”
“I’ve always had to look behind my back. Now I don’t have to worry so much.”
“This is a very amazing moment.”
According to news reports, those sentiments — hope, relief, gratitude, joy — have been expressed by immigrants heartened by President Obama’s decision to delay deportation for as many as 4 million people who entered the country without papers. They are ordinary folks eager for a semblance of normalcy — the right to a driver’s license, the ability to get a job legally, the respite from constant worry — in the adopted country they now call home.
While Obama’s action has drawn withering criticism from his conservative critics, the president framed his decision as an attempt to keep families from being torn apart. According to the Migration Policy Institute, some 3.7 million adults who came into the United States without authorization have at least one child who was born here or has legal permanent status and has been here five or more years.
Those children are firmly ensconced in their communities, anchored in their schools or workplaces, and strangers to the nations in which their parents were born. They speak English; they surf the Internet; they obsess over the latest smartphone. In other words, they are as American as your kids and mine.
What sort of country would separate them from their parents or force them to leave? Why not embrace them for the vitality they bring to us?
Opponents of Obama’s executive order are given to a heavy reliance on the rules and regulations of permissible entry, the legal codes that govern borders and visas and citizenship. It’s certainly true that unauthorized immigrants have violated those statutes — stealing across a river, sneaking through a desert, ignoring a previously agreed-upon departure.
But surely there is something to be said for leniency, for mercy, for generosity toward those who have, after all, committed only a misdemeanor, which is how the law characterizes a first-time illegal entry. (Obama’s executive order pointedly excludes those who have committed felonies.)
That mercy ought to be freely meted out since Americans bear some complicity in the law-breaking, some responsibility for the unauthorized sojourns taken by so many gardeners, cooks and nannies, painters, ditch diggers and fruit pickers. Back in the go-go 1990s, we practically threw open the gates and invited in low-skilled workers who were happy to do the jobs that Americans didn’t want to do.
There was more than enough work to go around in an economy where the unemployment rate dropped to as low as 4 percent, and native-born laborers shunned sweaty work picking Vidalia onions, toting drain pipe and laying sod. Undocumented workers proved cheap and compliant, unable to complain when safety regulations were violated and wages were substandard.
So they came by the millions, in Democratic and Republican administrations. They stayed, they worked hard, they married and had children. They adopted our values and called this country their own.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a backlash would be swift and furious, especially after the economy turned sour and the middle class shrank. Besides, every immigrant wave in the nation’s history — whether Irish or Polish or Chinese — has provoked an eruption of anger and resentment.
This backlash has been building since at least the early aughts, when President George W. Bush tried to pass legislation that would give the undocumented legal status and a path to citizenship. Ultraconservatives in his party rebelled, even as business executives pleaded for a compromise that would satisfy their need for workers.
The resentment was seeded, in part, by the reality of demographic change — by, yes, the discomfort produced by racial and ethnic differences. Older Americans, especially, have recoiled at a country that grows browner and more diverse, where Spanish-language signs dominate some neighborhoods and soccer fields replace baseball diamonds. That, too, has happened before in our history as immigrants brought their customs and religions and languages.
But the nation adapted before, and we’ll adapt again. That constant rejuvenation is one of the nation’s strengths, that energy and vitality is one of our advantages. We, too, ought to be grateful those immigrants are getting a shot at the American dream.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, November 29, 2014
Imagine this scene on Thanksgiving day. The turkey is partly carved, the mashed potatoes are being passed around.
Your Mother: What are you thankful for?
You: Well, if I can say so, I’m thankful for ObamaCare because it was great that I was able to sign up for health insurance on the internet.
Caricatured Uncle: Hope Reverend Wright isn’t on your death panel! Payback for Ferguson coming to you.
Your Mother [hoping to get control of the situation]: I did something different this year with the sweet potatoes! Do you like it?
Never fear. The pundits are here to save you. Think Progress has a guide on “how to argue with your Evangelical uncle” about marriage equality. Vox is advising you on Bill Cosby, Ferguson, and immigration (you’re for it as much as possible, of course).
Last year, some of Michael Bloomberg’s dollars trickled down to someone who gave you talking points on gun control. Chris Hayes is once again dedicating an hour of his MSNBC show to the cause.
Less combatively, Conor Friedersdorf advises you to adopt his brand of nodding empathy: “Before you focus on any point of disagreement, ask questions of your interlocutor to figure out why they think the way they do about the subject at hand.”
These advice columns are becoming a genre unto themselves. The stock villain: crazy right-wing uncle, the jokes about stuffing. But I recognize them by what they unwittingly emulate: guides for religious evangelism. The gentle, righteous self-regard, the slightly orthogonal response guides, the implied urgency to cure your loved ones of their ignorance. Your raging uncle will know the truth, and the truth will set him free.
That’s a problem. Our politics are taking on a religious shape. Increasingly we allow politics to form our moral identity and self-conception. We surround ourselves with an invisible community of the “elect” who share our convictions, and convince ourselves that even our closest and beloved relatives are not only wrong, but enemies of goodness itself. And so one of the best, least religious holidays in the calendar becomes a chance to deliver your uncle up as a sinner in the hands of an angry niece.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. As a conservative raised in an argumentative and left-leaning Irish-American family, Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners did more than any professional media training to prepare me for MSNBC panels. But arguments like these, particularly when we allow politics to dominate our notions of ourselves, can leave lasting scars. And precisely because our familial relationships are so personal, the likely responses to our creamed and beaten talking points will be defensive, anxious, off-subject, or overly aggressive.
You might think you can sneak in a killer talking point about immigration reform, only to touch off a sprawling congress about the personhood of unborn children, the Vietnam War, and whether it is really sexist to describe Nancy Pelosi as a “tough broad.”
Instead, what we really need are guides for gently deflecting the conversation away from politics, as our polite grandmothers once did.
Bringing up politics can be a form of self-assertion, or a way for a family member to test whether he is accepted for who he is. One of the reasons the “conservative uncle” has become the cliched oaf of the Thanksgiving dinner is precisely because he may feel, rightly or wrongly, that the country is moving away from him. He could be testing to see whether his family is ready to reject him, too. Or he could just be an oafish, self-regarding lout. Either way, it doesn’t have to be that hard to show he is appreciated as a family member and human being.
Caricatured Uncle: Obummer sure got waxed in that election. Guess he isn’t the Messiah, huh?
You: Har har, you got me. But hey, I get to read and think about the news every day. I only see you twice a year. How is the renovation going?
Instead of honing your argument on tax reform into unassailability, maybe ask your parents or siblings ahead of time what some of the further-flung or more volatile members of your family are up to in their lives before they sit down. Get the family’s talking points, rather than Mike Bloomberg’s.
And if you do want to pointlessly and frustratingly argue about politics with your uncle, just friend him on Facebook.
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, November 26, 2014
“GOP Anger Cannot Obscure Legal Reality”: On Immigration Policy, The Law And Facts Are On Obama’s Side
There is an adage every young lawyer learns: If you have the law, pound the law; if you have the facts, pound the facts. But if you have neither, pound the table.
The heated Republican rhetoric in response to President Obama’s immigration announcement is unquestionably table-pounding. His opponents have neither the law nor the facts on their side, so they have resorted to name calling and threats. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued a news release referring to “Emperor Obama,” while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused him of being like a monarch and of having a “temper tantrum.” Some conservative legislators have called for censuring the president, or even initiating impeachment proceedings.
As a matter of law, however, it is absolutely clear that Obama has the authority to decide not to prosecute or deport anyone he chooses. Prosecutorial discretion is an inherent part of presidential power. The Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon declared: “The Executive Branch has exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to prosecute a case.”
No one believes that the federal government has to prosecute every violation of every federal crime or to deport every person who is eligible for deportation. The federal government, for example, long has not prosecuted people caught with small amounts of marijuana even though it violates the federal controlled substance act.
Choices about whether to prosecute are based on a wide array of policy considerations, including how to best allocate scarce prosecutorial resources and whether enforcing a law produces desirable outcomes. Constitutionality is another issue that can be taken into account. It is well established that the president does not have to enforce laws that he believes to be unconstitutional; indeed, to do so would violate his oath of office to uphold the Constitution. Nor does the president have to enforce laws that he believes to be unwise.
All of this is especially clear in the area of immigration policy. The Supreme Court long has recognized that immigration and deportations are closely tied to foreign policy, which is uniquely in the domain of executive power and control. The executive discretion granted by the Constitution certainly includes deciding whether to bring deportation proceedings. Throughout history, the federal government has chosen — for humanitarian concerns or foreign policy reasons — to not try to deport some individuals or classes of individuals, even though they are not lawfully in the United States.
Republican presidents have used this discretion as much as Democratic ones. In 1987, in a decidedly political move by a president who opposed the Sandinista regime, the Reagan administration took executive action to stop deportations of 200,000 Nicaraguan exiles. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush, to advance his foreign policy, stopped deportations of Chinese students and in 1991 prevented hundreds of Kuwait citizens who were illegally in the United States from being deported. In 2001, President George W. Bush limited deportation of Salvadoran citizens at the request of the Salvadoran president, ordering that deportation decisions include consideration of factors such as whether a mother was nursing a child or whether an undocumented person was a U.S. military veteran.
All of the Republican anger cannot obscure the legal reality: Obama has the authority to decide to suspend deportations. Likewise, the facts support Obama. A cruel aspect of immigration policy is that it often separates parents, who are in the United States illegally, from their children who are U.S. citizens because they were born in this country.
Nora Sandigo, in Miami, has a sticker in her car that says “Every child is a blessing.” It is a reminder for her as she drives around to pick up yet another child whose parents have been deported. Since 2009, Sandigo has taken legal guardianship of 812 U.S. citizens whose parents have been deported. “La Gran Madre” is what many call her, but she knows her limitations. “All I can do is hold back some of the bleeding. There is no way I can give 812 children the love and attention they need, but … the system is broken.”
It is estimated that there may be as many as 5 million parents in this situation. The irony is that Republican rhetoric for years has emphasized “family values,” but it is Obama who is acting in a profoundly pro-family way.
By: Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law and Samuel Kleiner, a fellow at the Yale Law Information Society Project; Published in The National Memo, November 24, 2014
“Obama Calculates The Human Cost Of Deportations”: It’s Past Time To Stop The Stupidity And The Lack Of Humanity
The commemorations of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall have thrust into the public spotlight the border guard who ordered the gates opened. The subject of both a new German-language book and film, one-time Stasi Lt. Col. Harald Jäger has recounted why he defied his orders. And his story couldn’t be more relevant to the debate consuming our own nation.
On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, prompted by an erroneous announcement from an East German Politburo spokesman that his compatriots would be free to cross the border, thousands of East Berliners flocked to the checkpoint Jäger supervised. His superiors told him to keep the gates closed, though he could let a few people through, provided he marked the passports of those he determined were activists and blocked their reentry when they came back.
When one such young couple returned from the West, going home to their small children, Jäger saw that while the wife could reenter, her husband’s passport had been stamped, forbidding his return. Jäger faced a choice. “My responsibility was clear — enforce the law and split the couple,” he recalled to the Financial Times. “But at that moment it became so clear to me . . . the stupidity, the lack of humanity. I finally said to myself, ‘Kiss my arse. Now I will do what I think is right.’ ” He let the couple in. Then he commanded the guards to throw open the gates. The rest is history — and a lesson to a nation now embroiled in a different, but not that different, contest between the imperatives of custom and law, as some construe it, and those of keeping families together.
Of the thousands of words written lately on President Obama’s impending order to exempt some undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation, most have dealt with the politics of the issue, not the humanity behind it. What the media have largely failed to emphasize is that Obama’s order will be shaped almost entirely by the imperative of keeping parents with their children. The administration is planning to allow the undocumented parents of children born here (and who are, thus, U.S. citizens) to stay and receive work permits. Unfortunately, this will not include parents of the “dreamers” who are already protected by executive order from deportation.
What the pundits have tended to overlook, as well, is the humanity behind Obama’s apparent willingness to act without congressional approval. Every year since Obama became president, the government has deported roughly 400,000 undocumented immigrants, with little regard to whether they’ve broken any law save crossing the border without papers or overstaying their visas — or whether their kids are wondering where their parents have gone. On Tuesday, the Pew Research Center reported that in 2012, some 13 percent of schoolchildren in both Texas and California had at least one undocumented parent. That’s a lot of parents, a lot of kids.
It’s not as if Obama hasn’t waited for Congress to address the immigration conundrum. Nearly 18 months ago, a bipartisan majority of 68 senators passed an Obama-backed bill that would have significantly augmented our border security forces and provided a long and tortuous pathway to legalization for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. The Republican-controlled House refused to take up the bill, however, though it likely would have passed. Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders declined to risk the ire of the nativists in their ranks.
So long as Republicans — many of them from heavily gerrymandered districts with few Latino voters — continue to control the House, that chamber isn’t likely to enact any serious immigration reform. It is likely, however, that the House will stay in Republican hands until at least the first election following the next decennial redistricting — that is, until 2023. Should the wave of deportations without regard to family status continue until then, the number of broken families could easily rise into the millions.
Obama has no doubt calculated the political risks and advantages of acting alone; he could be sued for political malpractice if he didn’t. He believes, rightly, that the president has the authority to direct immigration officials to exempt particular groups from detention and deportation. But beyond the political and legal calculations are those that are simply human.
None of this is to equate the legitimacy of our laws and policies to those of the late, unlamented East Germany. But even democracies can, and not infrequently do, violate the most elemental human rights. Stripping children of their parents is such a violation. It’s time — past time — to stop the stupidity, the lack of humanity.
By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 19, 2014
“Ensuring A Fair Policy”: Reagan And Bush Acted Unilaterally On Immigration, Too—For The Same Reason That Obama Will
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that two previous Republican presidents—Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush—had taken unilateral action to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, and the political reaction was much less vitriolic than what Obama has faced as he prepares to make a similar move. Conservatives, notably The Atlantic’s David Frum and National Review’s Mark Krikorian, quickly pushed back. Frum argues that, while legal, Obama’s upcoming executive action would be an unprecedented violation of political norms. Krikorian goes further, calling it “Caesarism, pure and simple.” But in the end, though they differ in their vehemence, both Krikorian and Frum’s analyses do more to reveal the flaws in the conservative position than prove the lawlessness of Obama’s upcoming action.
Krikorian and Frum’s main argument is that Reagan and Bush’s unilateral actions were simply fixes to the 1986 immigration law that granted green cards to three million undocumented immigrants. Reagan and Bush discovered that, due to an unintended consequence of that law, many spouses and kids of newly-legalized immigrants faced deportation, potentially tearing families apart. In response, Reagan and Bush implemented “cleanup measures,” as Krikorian terms them: In 1987, Reagan’s Immigration and Naturalization Service announced that kids of newly-legalized immigrants would not be deported; Bush extended those protections to spouses in 1991.
According to Krikorian and Frum, these actions reflected Congress’s intentions because the legislative branch codified Reagan and Bush’s executive action into law in 1992. “Reagan and Bush acted in conjunction with Congress and in furtherance of a congressional purpose,” Frum writes. “Nobody wanted to deport the still-illegal husband of a newly legalized wife. Reagan’s (relatively small) and Bush’s (rather larger) executive actions tidied up these anomalies.” In other words, it would be unfair if Reagan and Bush deported children and spouses of newly-legalized immigrants. In fact, Bush’s executive action was called the “family fairness” program.
In contrast, they argue, Obama’s executive action is not what Congress intended. “A new order would not further a congressional purpose,” Frum writes. “It is intended to overpower and overmaster a recalcitrant Congress.” Krikorian was even more emphatic: “Whatever their merits, the Reagan and Bush measures were modest attempts at faithfully executing legislation duly enacted by Congress. Obama’s planned amnesty decree is Caesarism, pure and simple.”
What both Frum and Krikorian’s analyses fail to explain is how Obama’s planned action is not a faithful attempt at executing the law. You can’t argue that Obama’s “order would not further a congressional purpose” without explaining what Congress’s purposes are in passing immigration laws. This error isn’t unique to Frum or Krikorian: Conservatives often fail to use a legal framework in analyzing Obama’s action.
In August, I employed such a framework to explain why Obama’s executive action is legal because it’s based on the idea of prosecutorial discretion—the federal government has only limited resources to implement laws and must prioritize them accordingly. But prosecutorial discretion has limits because Congress has the sole authority to write laws. If the president’s actions do not uphold Congress’s priorities—or, in Frum’s words, further a congressional purpose—it crosses the line into lawmaking.
A major priority of immigration law is deterrence. The more the federal government allows undocumented immigrants to stay and work legally in the United States, the more it incentivizes foreigners to come here illegally. That’s why conservatives see Obama’s executive actions as an unfaithful execution of the law. But Congress has other, competing priorities in passing legislation. They want laws to be uniform, predictable and fair, for instance.
When the federal government implements immigration law, it must balance these priorities. In other words, the benefits of making the immigration system fairer must be greater than the costs of reducing deterrence. To an extent, of course, these are subjective judgments. But as long as Obama, or any president, for that matter, is implementing the law in line with congressional priorities—as I believe Obama is—his actions are legal.
In applying this framework to Obama’s upcoming executive action, the law supports the administration’s position. The change in immigration policy may remove a deterrent for foreigners considering illegally immigrating to the U.S. But the drop in deterrence is small, since the potential beneficiaries of Obama’s action must have lived in the U.S. continuously for many years. Foreigners cannot come into the country illegally under the expectation that the president will soon grant them protection from deportations.
On the other hand, the benefits of these actions are significant. They allow undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, work legally, and receive legal protections under U.S. law. They no longer have to worry about a discriminatory immigration system. Maybe most importantly, the new policy will prevent families from being torn apart—which was the main reason behind Reagan and Bush’s executive actions, which Frum and Krikorian believe was justified.
It’s impossible to pick a specific point where the costs outweigh the benefits of Obama’s actions. As Obama shields more undocumented immigrants from deportation, the costs of the policy grow significantly. He risks crossing the line from upholding congressional priorities into lawmaking. But conservatives haven’t offered a legal framework to explain how Obama’s expected executive action crosses that line. Bush and Reagan’s actions were legally acceptable for the same reason Obama’s would be: ensuring that our immigration policy is fair.
By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, November 19, 2014