By Todd Beamon
As President Barack Obama prepares to announce his executive orders on immigration in the coming weeks, he is believed to be considering two major actions: granting temporary relief from deportation and giving work authorization to millions of illegal immigrants.
“There are two ways this could go,” Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, told Time magazine. Obama could either be seen as “the deporter-in-chief, or the great emancipator. Those are the two potential legacies.”
What Obama plans to do continues to remain a secret, Time reports, but aides have declined to say how many of the estimated 11 million illegals could be helped by his actions.
“He seems resolute that he’s going to go big and go soon,” says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice, who has met with Obama.
“I don’t want to put a number on it,” cautioned a senior White House official, noting that the president planned to take action before the November congressional elections.
Regardless of the steps he takes, Republicans will charge the president with granting amnesty to millions of illegals.
Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency aid from Congress to address the escalating crisis of illegal minors being arrested at the South Texas border in recent months — and both Republicans and Democrats have whacked billions from the request in bills they plan to vote on next week.
“How Congress chooses to act in the coming hours and days will determine whether the president succeeds in his plan to nullify the immigration laws of the United States,” Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions told Newsmax in a statement on Saturday.
“No member — House or Senate, Democrat or Republican — should support any bill with respect to the border crisis that does not include language explicitly prohibiting the administration from taking such action,” Sessions added. “Congress must foreclose any possibility of these unlawful executive actions before congressional funding is granted. This is an essential precondition.”
The work permit issue is a particular hot button among Republicans, as the nation grapples with a 6.3 percent unemployment rate — 10.7 percent for African Americans — and reports that nearly all of the job growth since 2000 went immigrants, both legal and illegal.
Of the nearly six million more people working in the United States since 2000, 5.7 million of them are immigrants, according to the study by the Center for Immigration Studies.
In other words, the number of new jobs obtained by native-born Americans fell slightly during the period, from 114.8 million to 114.7 million.
During the period, immigrants have obtained jobs across the full employment spectrum: construction, food service, retailing, office support, management, computers, and healthcare.
“Immigrants have made gains across the labor market in lower-, middle-, and higher-skilled jobs,” Steven Camarota, the center’s research director, told The Washington Times.
Republicans and those opposing immigration reform argue that granting more work permits to illegals would drive native-born joblessness even further, contrary to business leaders and reform advocates who argue that more immigrants would ease labor shortages in a variety of fields.
“During a time of low wages, high unemployment, and surging welfare rolls, the Senate bill doubled the existing and expansive rate of legal immigrant and guest-worker admissions into the U.S.,” Sessions charged in a recent opinion piece for The National Review.
He was referring to the bipartisan Gang of Eight comprehensive reform legislation passed by the Senate in June 2013. Sessions is a senior member of the Senate Budget and Judiciary committees.
“If mass immigration is so good for the economy, why then — during this long sustained period of record immigration into the U.S. — are incomes falling and a record number of Americans not working?” he asked.
According to Time, Obama’s options include expanding his 2012 executive order that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
DACA ended the threat of deportation for as many as 670,000 illegals between the ages of 15 and 31 who were brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday. Obama recently extended the program for two more years.
The most aggressive option here, Time reports, would be for Obama to broaden DACA to anyone who could have gained legal status under the bipartisan Gang of Eight bill that passed the Senate in June 2013.
The legislation would have covered as many as 8 million illegals, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It is unlikely that Obama goes that far, Time reports.
“You can get to big numbers very quickly,” Fitz told Time, who estimated that illegals numbering in the seven figures could be affected by any DACA extension.
Another option would be to expand the program to include some family members of those who are already eligible.
“While there are several options to provide temporary deportation relief, we expect an expansion of the DACA program to other groups of individuals to be the most clear opportunity,” a congressional aide told Time.
Obama has the authority to take these executive actions, legal experts tell Time.
“As a purely legal matter, the president does have wide discretion when it comes to immigration,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr of the Cornell University Law School. “Just as DACA was within the purview of the president’s executive authority on immigration, so too would expanding DACA fall within the president’s inherent immigration authority.”
Categorical grants of affirmative relief to non-citizens have been made 21 times since 1976, by six different presidents, according to a report from the Center for American Progress cited by Time.