Opinion: On Immigration Reform, President Obama Is Betting On The Guys In The Black Hats

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President Obama’s decision to delay the release of the results of the review of his administration’s deportation policies is political folly and has been interpreted as a knife in the back of his most ardent supporters.

The response from the immigration reform community has not been favorable. United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation, expressed “outrage” at the president’s decision. They see him “cowering” to House Republicans while demonstrating “complacency and willingness to deport more than 1,100 people every day and separate countless families, cementing his legacy as the Deporter in Chief.”

The window for immigration reform in 2014 is only open a crack, and the Republicans are quickly slamming it shut with calls for more interior immigration enforcement.  

— Matthew Kolken

Erika Andiola of the Dream Action Coalition was "appalled" by the president's decision stating that “while we keep waiting, more and more families continue to be detained and deported.”

The New York Times editorial board called the delay “ridiculous” and “infuriating” commenting that the move has resulted in individuals being forced to live in fear as Obama’s deportation machine continues to grind up families, while also expressing skepticism of the president’s “oft-repeated, oft-failed strategy of waiting for Republican legislators to do their jobs.”

The irony is that House Republicans aren’t happy with the delay either. House Judiciary member Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) complained that “When the president says that he’s going to set a time limit and then consider taking actions himself … that makes doing immigration reform harder, not easier.”

So much for giving the GOP space to move on reform.

Director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz exercised damage control stating that "The president really wants to maximize the opportunity to get a permanent solution enacted, which requires Congress." Absent from her explanation is an acknowledgment that the president maintains the constitutional authority to expand prosecutorial discretion initiatives in a way that would provide immediate and permanent solutions to what could be millions of undocumented immigrants who either have strong family or employment ties to the country.

Specifically, an expansion of “parole in place” already extended to family members of military personnel.

Parole in place is a legal mechanism that circumvents the harsh consequences of the 1996 immigration law signed by President Clinton. It confers temporary legal status to individuals that enables them to apply for a Green Card from inside the United States if otherwise eligible. This is necessary because Clinton’s law established penalties for individuals that either entered the United States without inspection or overstayed their visa, cutting off the ability to apply for legal status from inside the country. The Catch-22 is that in most instances departure automatically triggers a 10-year bar, preventing those same individuals from applying for immigration benefits from home absent a waiver, which may or may not be available, and is difficult to obtain.

Should the president expand the parole in place initiative beyond family members of military personnel, undocumented immigrants with certain United States citizen relatives would be afforded an opportunity to get right with the law from inside the country without needing a waiver and without having to endure extended and destructive separation from their family. These are the same people who the administration has purportedly deemed a low priority for deportation, and the polls show the majority of Americans want to protect.

The point being, the president doesn’t need the Republicans to act to start fixing problems now. More importantly, the immigrant community can’t wait another three months and approximately 100,000 deportations for him to stop destroying immigrant families with deportation.

So what would the political fallout be if the president unilaterally implemented constitutionally permissible prosecutorial discretion initiatives? From what I’ve seen very little, as the window for immigration reform in 2014 is only open a crack, and the Republicans are quickly slamming it shut with calls for more interior immigration enforcement.

The only thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that if it were my parent or spouse facing an immediate threat of deportation I wouldn’t put my money on the guys wearing the black hats. Suffice it to say, the time has long past for someone to ride in on a White House horse with six-guns a blazin’ to save the day.

It’s high noon Mr. President.