While the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill collects dust in the House, undocumented immigration activists are ramping up protests. Seven such immigration reform activists were arrested Wednesday for chaining themselves to the White House fence to push the House to pass immigration reform.
In an interview with Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said he would support legislation to reform immigration if it ended up on his desk. He said he would not only support sweeping legislation changes but also smaller, more specific bills to address order security, a clearer path to citizenship, and general improvements to an antiquated immigration system.
“The only ‘no’ we’ll accept is no more deportations,” said Tomas Martinez, a member of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights in an NBC Latino article. “The President can’t deny he has the power and the responsibility to stop deportations. We’re being told to wait for reform, but waiting is not an option when 1,200 of us are being deported each day.”
But a bill that addresses all of these issues has been standing still, untouched by the House after passing through the Senate on June 27. Can Obama actually push House members to vote on bipartisan legislation the Senate already passed? Can the President even issue an executive order and totally bypass the House? The bill has been touted as a bipartisan victory, so shouldn’t both parties be happy with the modifications to the immigration system?
On the surface, it seems as if the President cannot do much. Our government is set up with checks and balances that are supposed to grant equal power to the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Taking executive action while a bill sits in the legislative branch would be a blatant circumvention of the standard lawmaking process. We have already seen a growing executive branch under Obama, and this would be another step that could serve as an undermining precedent.
But on June 5, 2012, President Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) so that undocumented Dreamers could stay in the U.S. longer to apply for citizenship without fear of deportation. He did this without Congress to ensure action was taken.
Matthew Kolken, an immigration lawyer in Buffalo, N.Y., said Obama does have the authority to change the number of deportations without ordering comprehensive immigration reform. He said prosecutorial discretion would help deportation officials sift through students, parents and actual violent criminals.
“The administration would have it in their power to institute removal proceeding if the individual has a criminal record,” Kolken said. “The president has misrepresented his deportation record since taking office, and I believe what he is doing is for political expediency more so than keeping his campaign promises.”
Even after the President campaigned and said he would fight for immigrant rights, the number of deportations in the U.S. has not decreased. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse in Syracuse, there have been 192,270 deportation proceedings alone this year, and only a small percentage of these people were found guilty of capital crimes.
Obama has already centralized the power of the U.S. government to the executive branch regarding the immigration issue, as illustrated by DACA. In the midst of the Super Bowl of political games, the President is also making an effort to maintain a power balance — and friendly relations — between the executive offices and legislators.
In an issue as pressing as immigration reform, the President cannot stand idly by as the bill sits in the House. He has the power to lower the number of deportations by focusing more on criminals instead of peaceful, working immigrants — an action that may serve a purpose before a full bill can be passed.