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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Obama's June 15th Immigration Policy is Conservative

Conservative Argument for President Obama’s Executive Immigration Policy

The federal government is too big.  Even worse, America’s problems seem too big for our elected leaders.  The President and Congress have failed to deal with our national debt, our national deficit, our anemic economic growth, or our immigration quagmire.  We have three levels of government in the United States, federal, state, and local.  The state and local levels of government are closest to the citizenry and should deal with the majority of our public political issues. Conservatives want problems solved with the least use of government power possible.  Conservatives do not want a weak federal government, conservatives want an efficient federal government.  Unquestionably, two areas where the federal government must act are the areas of national security and immigration. 

We have over 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States.  This is a situation over two decades in the making.  The past two years have shown that enforcement and attrition strategies are too small of a solution to deal with such a large number of people.  Most of those 11.2 million people are good people who stay out of trouble, work hard, and are good members of their communities.  However, their number is so large that even a small percentage of problem-makers means hundreds of thousands of people in the country damaging our communities.  The numbers of unauthorized immigrants is a direct result of three failures of federal power.  One, the borders have only recently been operationally secure.  For over two decades there was not enough of a deterrent to “sneaking” across the border.  It was relatively cheap and easy.  Only recent security changes have substantially disincentivized illegal border crossings.  However, many unauthorized immigrants did enter lawfully though a border checkpoint or airport.  They just never left.  Almost eleven years after 9/11 we still lack the resources and will to track down visa overstays.  This, like illegal border crossings, is an issue of incentives.  The likelihood of getting caught as a visa overstay is too small.  The third failure of federal power is the inability to create a logical, transparent, and clear national immigration code.  The federal immigration laws are similar to the tax code, too complex and lacking and overall schema.

These failures of federal power endanger the United States.  The large number of unauthorized immigrants essentially provides cover to the small number of public safety threats, criminals, and national security threats.  The haystack is too big to find the needle.  Congress has failed to address the immigration quagmire in any systematic way, instead choosing to act ad hoc, largely in appropriations bills, adding to the tangle of laws and regulations.

President Obama has taken a step towards easing the immigration problem.  Solving the problem would require the cooperation of Congress.  The President used his authority to enforce the laws and is using prosecutorial discretion.  One of the dangers of a large unauthorized immigrant population is that, by definition, these people live off of the government’s radar screen, off the grid.  The President is effectively removing 12.5% of the unknown by giving them a string incentive to come out of the shadows.  He is also choosing the group that presents the smallest public safety or national security threat, likely speaks the best English, and is most easily assimilated into American culture.  The President is not granting anyone amnesty or providing a new way of obtaining citizenship or lawful status to this group.  The President, by using the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) division to administer the paperwork is passing the cost of the deferred action implementation onto the immigrant beneficiaries.  USCIS is fee supported.  The filing fees it collects pay for its operation.  Thus, the large influx of applicants are not going to cause a hit the budget, instead they will pay for the administrative costs out of their filing fees.

The immigration quagmire, like the debt, deficit, and anemic economic growth, still needs a comprehensive and innovative solution.  The new policy does not solve the problem.  However, President Obama is using federal power appropriately.  He is using limited federal power to bring in a sizable part of the shadow population into the light, without giving away more entitlements, and without more costs to the taxpayer.  Given the current state of our divided Congress, it is up to Republicans to solve the other 90% of the immigration puzzle. President Obama may not have done anything else that can be considered politically conservative, but his June 15th immigration policy is just what a conservative should want, except that it also helps him in his reelection efforts, no conservative wants that.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Debunking 5 Arguments Against New Immigration Policy


Many people are outraged by the Obama Administration’s decision to prevent the deportation of hundreds of thousands of children and young adults who were brought to the United States as children.  There are five primary categories of arguments raised against this policy decision.  One, this is just election year politicking.  Two, this is amnesty and is unfair to people “doing it the right way”.  Three, this is amnesty and creates an incentive for people to violate the immigration law in the future.  Four, this example of presidential fiat is an abrogation of the constitutional separation of powers. Five, “they are taking our jobs”. Each of these arguments fails to appreciate just how conservative a policy President Obama has enacted.

Unless one has been deeply involved in preparations for a zombie apocalypse (Zombpocalyse?), everyone is aware that this an election year.  There is no doubt that President Obama hopes to gain an electoral advantage from this policy decision.  However, this does not mean that the policy is therefore substantively wrong, or that it was enacted solely for political reasons.  President Obama has a long record in support of the “Dream Act”, which is proposed legislation that would provide path to legalization to the same group that the President is removing from the pool of individuals who will be targeted for removal.  This is a policy the President believes in.  This is also a policy that makes practical sense.

There are an estimated 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States.  The federal government deported a record number of individuals in fiscal year 2011, a staggering 396,906 people. .  If this record breaking pace is continued, all of the unlawful immigrants will be deported by 2040 or 2041, assuming no other unlawful immigrants enter the United States during that time.  This policy effectively removes 12.5% of the population eligible for deportation from the enforcement equation for now.  These 12.5% is also likely the most likely to speak English fluently, be assimilated into American culture, and pose the least danger to national security or public safety.  (For more discussion on the specifics and numbers of the new policy please see my earlier fact check post:  ).

The substance of the Dream Act has been supported at one time or another by President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain (although he later panicked and renounced support), Governor Jeb Bush, and Governor Rick Perry.  None of those individuals are bleeding heart liberals.  This policy not only will help strengthen the President’s support with the elusive Hispanic/Latino electorate, it may energize that electorate and increase turnout.  This policy also creates a wedge issue among Republicans on one of the few issues where the President and the Democrats can split the Republicans.  Congress has refused to move the “Dream Act” or any major or comprehensive immigration reform since the George W. Bush presidency.  This policy was a politically savvy move, but it was not merely election year politicking. 

Opponents to this immigration enforcement change frequently point out that it is essentially an amnesty and unfair to those immigrants doing things “the right way”.  This argument has two parts.  The first is easiest to cast aside.  The actual policy does not give any legal status, or even a road map to obtain lawful status.  This policy only allows a narrowly defined group of people the satisfaction of knowing they are not a deportation priority for two years.  They do get a work permit.  There is no way to twist such a category into the definition of amnesty. 

The second part of this fairness argument is the so-called “right way” of immigrating.  Everyone agrees our immigration system is a mess.  Few realize how confusing and difficult it is to navigate.  Under the present law any of the beneficiaries of the law who entered the United States without inspection by immigration officials, cannot except in an extremely narrow set of circumstances[1], obtain a “green card” without first leaving the United States.  The problem is once you have been unlawfully present in the United States for one year, usually only time accrued after age 18 is counted, you are barred from returning to the United States for ten years.  There is a waiver of the ten year bar available.  However, one has to have a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen spouse or parent, children don’t count, and you have to prove an extreme hardship to that spouse or parent if you are not granted the waiver.  Most of the group that benefits from the President’s policy can’t immigrate the right way.  They were brought in the United States by someone else as children, have grown up here, are Americanized, and have no way to “legalize”. 

Another example of the difficulty of immigrating the right way is to look at the Visa Bulletin maintained by the United States State department.  This tracks how long the visa wait is for certain categories of immigrant visas.  The June Visa Bulletin found at , shows that depending on the category and country, the wait for a visa based on family relationship is between two years to twenty-three years or longer.  Again, many of the beneficiaries of this policy wouldn’t qualify for a visa even after a lengthy wait because of the choices of others, assuming they even have a family member that could petition for them.

The other amnesty argument deals with incentives.  The idea is that in the future people will see that if they come to the United States illegally and bring their children some future President will forgive their breach of the immigration laws.  The amnesty portion of the argument has already been debunked above.  The incentive part of the argument is specious. There is not any peer-reviewed data that demonstrates the Reagan Amnesty created any of this incentive thinking in future unauthorized immigrants.  Most people make the decision to immigrate based on personal or family economic or political necessity.  The risks of staying are weighed against the risks of leaving.  The major reason previous comprehensive immigration has not succeeded in reducing illegal immigration was it was not truly comprehensive.  The policy failed to secure the boarders and failed deal the actual incentives for most unlawful immigration, economic incentives.  Our southern boarder is effectively sealed.  There is evidence that net migration from Mexico is negative, that is more people have returned to Mexico than have immigrated to the United States. .  The reasons for this reversal are the increase in boarder security, economic improvement in Mexico, the state of the economy in the United States, and the enforcement efforts of immigration in the United States.  Giving a large group of young people protection from deportation for two years at a time will not create any incentive for people to illegally immigrate in the face of so many other factors.

The fourth argument against the President’s new immigration policy is that it is an abuse of executive power.  The Constitution specifically charges the Executive Branch, of which the President is head and the Department of Homeland Security is part, with enforcing and executing the law.  The Department of Homeland Security is the federal agency charged with carrying out the removal or deportation process.  As discussed above, the numbers of unauthorized immigrants in the United States is staggering.  There is no practical way to simply remove 11.2 million people in a short time.  Even if the government were to triple the number of deportations, assuming no increase in unauthorized immigrants, it would still take a decade to deport 11.2 million people.  Therefore, the government clearly has to prioritize.  Secretary Napolitano’s June 15th memo moves forward a priority system.  This latest memorandum is actually part of DHS’s continuing efforts to focus on criminal immigrants and use prosecutorial discretion to keep low priority unauthorized immigrants from slowing down the immigration court system.  Prosecutorial discretion and enforcement priorities are the hallmarks of executive action.

The President has not altered the existing immigration laws.  Once again, the June 15th memo does not grant citizenship, it does not grant any type of lawful status, it also does not make obtaining any type of lawful status any easier.  The President is well within his Constitutional powers.  Many may disagree with the wisdom or the cynicism of the policy, but it is not an abuse of power. 

The fifth argument against President Obama’s immigration policy has special resonance in these difficult economic times.  This argument is that with the national unemployment rate stubbornly high, authorizing more people, particularly people not authorized to be here, will be a drag on the unemployment rate.  This argument makes several inaccurate assumptions.  The first assumption is that the jobs this group or any group of unauthorized immigrants fills would be taken by U.S. citizens or other authorized immigrants if the unauthorized immigrants were out of the job market.  One humorous look at this issue is Stephen Colbert’s efforts. .  Arizona and Mississippi appear to have labor shortages in the agricultural sector that many blame on those states strict state based immigration enforcement laws. .   Agricultural labor shortages have also been reported in many western states.  Only time will tell if there is causation or simply correlation between tougher immigration enforcement and labor shortages in unskilled labor industries. 

Anecdotal evidence, ask any farmer, strongly indicates most U.S. citizens are reluctant to perform farm work for any period of time.  Many employers, even with high unemployment, report difficulty in filling high skilled and medium skilled positions.  I have had difficulty in filling medium skilled positions in my business for two years.  Additionally, many of the immigrants affected by President Obama’s policy shift are not in the labor force, but are in school.  When unemployment was low and the economy was doing well, the numbers of unauthorized immigrants were about the same as they are now.  There is a strong argument that President Obama’s actions are negatively affecting the unemployment rate, but the facts do not support that unauthorized immigrants are the primary, or even secondary cause of our economic woes and miserable unemployment situation.  This is not to suggest that the current historically anomalous level of unauthorized immigrants is politically or economically desirable.  Instead, the President’s deferred action policy will not result in the further loss of “American” jobs.

The main arguments against this policy are all sound and fury.  What the self proclaimed conservative opponents to this policy fail to see is how President Obama’s new immigration policy is actually a traditionally conservative policy.  Please see tomorrow’s post for a Conservative defense of the new immigration policy.

[1] This is the so-called 245i provision.  If an individual, or depending on where in the United States you live, the child of an individual, who is the beneficiary of an immigrant petition or labor certification filed prior to April 30, 2001 you can obtain lawful permanent residence without first leaving the United States, if the individual otherwise qualifies, by paying an additional $1,000 fine.  To complicate matters further if the qualifying petition was filed on or after January 15, 1998 and before April 30, 2001, the individual also has to prove they were in the United States on December 21, 2000.  Clear enough?  
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Obama's Immigration Policy Fact Check


Much of the anger about President Obama’s new immigration policy is rooted in ignorance.  This policy grants deferred action to a narrow group of individuals.  This policy does not grant citizenship.  This policy does not grant lawful permanent resident status (aka “Green Card”).  This policy does not make fundamental changes, or any changes, to federal immigration law.  This policy doesn’t even create a roadmap for any of the beneficiaries of this policy to get citizenship or permanent residence.  Deferred action is an enforcement tool.  Federal regulations reference deferred action as “administrative convenience to the government which gives some cases lower priority.”  See 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14) (   The Obama administration is announcing that a group of people, within a narrow set of parameters, are not a priority for deportation.

Secretary Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, defines he new immigration policy in a memorandum:

The only people who can benefit from this policy must meet five requirements:

1.     Have entered the United States under age sixteen
2.     Continuously resided in the United States for at least the past five years
3.     Be currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a G.E.D., or be honorably discharged veteran
4.     Not have any felony convictions, no “significant” misdemeanor convictions, no more than one misdemeanor conviction, and not pose a threat to national security or public safety
5.     Not be above the age of thirty.

The deferred action will only be valid for two-year increments.  Those who qualify will be eligible for a work permit.  People granted deferred action will still remain removable because they have entered the United States unlawfully, or remained in the United States longer than permitted.  Those granted deferred action will still have to go through the existing byzantine immigration system before they will be able to obtain lawful permanent residence, currently a prerequisite for the eventual obtainment of U.S. citizenship.

Estimates indicate that this policy could affect between 800,000 and 1.4 million people.

It is estimated that there are currently 11.2 unauthorized immigrants in the United States.

In fiscal year 2011 the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported removing, “deporting”, a record number of immigrants, 396,906.  If this record breaking pace is continued, all of the unlawful immigrants will be deported by 2040 or 2041, assuming no other unlawful immigrants enter the United States during that time.

Please see tomorrow’s post for a debunking of the four major arguments against President Obama’s policy.  The after tomorrow I will finish this three part post with a conservative’s defense of President Obama’s policy and a proposed way forward for Republicans on the intractable immigration problem.
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